Bay Nature magazineSummer 2008


Greenbelt Alliance Turns 50

July 1, 2008

The Warm Springs Unit, like many other relatively small protected areas throughout the region, may not look like much compared to the towering peaks of Yosemite or the plunging cliffs of Big Sur. But it is part of the Bay Area’s 1.15 million acres of protected open space. For this remarkable heritage, we owe hearty thanks to the many individuals and organizations that had the foresight, several decades ago, to start preserving these special places. One of those is Greenbelt Alliance, a local nonprofit now celebrating its half-century mark. Fifty years ago, housing activist Dorothy Erskine started Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks, a group made up of people working on local issues, but starting to think in regional terms. Three years later, the group hosted a conference that looked at the Bay as a regional recreational resource. The Save San Francisco Bay Association—now known as Save the Bay—was born out of that event.

Citizens for Regional Recreation and Parks morphed into People for Open Space, and then eventually became Greenbelt Alliance. Thinking and acting regionally and locally, Greenbelt Alliance continues to advocate for open spaces and affordable housing. Over its 50 years, the group has had a hand in protecting much of the Bay Area’s greenbelt. It has also campaigned successfully for urban growth boundaries in 25 cities and five counties, advocated walkable neighborhoods, and endorsed the building of 60,000 homes within existing city limits.

The Bay Area’s population is expected to increase by 1.7 million to 8.8 million in the next 25 years. Greenbelt Alliance has now joined with the Bay Area Open Space Council on a series of consultations with local biologists, land managers, and other experts in all nine counties, to identify priority areas for land conservation in the face of that growth. The results will be synthesized into a vision for the greenbelt, likely to be made public later this year.

Celebrate Greenbelt Alliance’s 50 years by joining one of the many hikes, bike rides, farm tours, and urban walks it sponsors every week throughout the year. Or attend its anniversary celebration on Wednesday, September 10, 2008, at the Herbst International Exhibition Center in San Francisco’s Presidio. The event will feature a “Taste of the Greenbelt,” offering food and wine made from ingredients grown in the Bay Area and prepared by local chefs. Go to for more information.

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.