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Backpacker Magazine – April 2000

Treasure In San Francisco's Backyard

More than 200 preserves, parks, and other protected wildlands lie within 40 miles of San Francisco, exceeding Yosemite National Park in size, biodiversity, and visitation.

by: Galen Rowell

The public, driving on this scenic highway past pristine forests and meadows with their windows rolled up, tends to think that parks and trails just happen. First, some sort of democratic majority votes them in; then come the impersonal signs that say "Park Entrance" or "Trail Crossing."

We know different because we discovered the individuals who made a difference to our own personal experience. We came across their names on trails and monuments. We read their stories from books we brought with us on the trail, and from displays in places like Muir Woods. We sensed how their adventures in rugged wildlands created a strong bond with the natural world, one that led them toward stewardship. They, too, must have emerged from the deep coastal forest soaking wet and muddy, only to get strange looks in the restaurants of nearby Stinson Beach.

As we drove back through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in heavy rain, I wondered aloud how long it would take the people of the Bay Area to care enough to build the dozens of uncompleted links needed to create the Ridge Trail. Would it be a year, 10, or never? Neither Thom nor Jerry answered. Their eyes and hearts were still outside of our warm vehicle, following the misty ridges and valleys where we had so recently moved under our own power, generating our own warmth and world view.

I thought about how a landscape, once you've walked through it, is never the same again. When the Ridge Trail is completed, I hope I'm still able to shoulder a pack and experience the whole 400 miles.

Galen Rowell is an adventure photographer and writer. His 1977 book, Bay Area Wild, expands on his conservationist views. Signed copies are available from his Web site,

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