National Geographic : 2016 Apr
96 national geographic • April 2016 the natural world back to the people, rather than have them live in an environment where everything is paved over with concrete.” The people are definitely at Golden Gate, one of the most visited places in the national park system, drawing around 15 million visitors each year. It spans both sides of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, with miles of coastline, tower- ing bluffs, redwoods, and remnants of former military installations. And there is an island, Alcatraz, where 4,000 tourists a day disembark from ferries to tour the former federal prison and ponder life behind bars. The park can be nearly a circus, with locals on their morning strolls skirting past tourists, weekend Frisbee games and parties on the fields, and dogs on and off leash seemingly everywhere. Many visitors have no idea they’re in a nation- al park. That’s understandable. There are no grand entrances. Adding to the confusion, San Francisco has its own Golden Gate Park, which abuts the national park near the ocean. All this creates a daunting range of constitu- ents, from hang gliders and politicians to surfers and commuters, and the battles over how best to manage the resources can be intense. “ We’re in a democracy, and democracies are messy,” Golden Gate Superintendent Chris Lehnertz said. A dog-management plan, for ex- ample, has been in the works for more than a dozen years. Lehnertz also is working with area govern- ments on a strategy for assisting the homeless, an issue at many urban parks. “I see a homeless person who spends the night here as a visitor,” she said, “just like I see somebody who walks their dog on a beautifully groomed trail.” One morning I drove about five miles south of San Francisco out to Milagra Ridge, a tiny outpost of the park with a commanding view of 1858 CENTRAL PARK NEW YORK, NEW YORK The city’s storied heart is perhaps the world’s best known urban park, a lush expanse framed—and increasingly shaded— by the skyscrapers of Manhattan. More than 42 million people visit each year. Despite those crowds, the park still provides pockets of tranquillity. Birders like Jeffrey Ward (right) gather on weekend mornings in the Ramble, a wild woodland that’s a popular stopover in spring and fall for migrating birds.