Putting Open Space on the Map

March 1, 2011

If you want to know something about getting around the Bay Area, ask Larry Orman, executive director of GreenInfo Network and board chair for Bay Nature. After studying at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s, he became involved in environmental work. Larry eventually became the first executive director of the Greenbelt Alliance, a job that required him to get to know the Bay Area outdoors, as he says, “before Google Earth, before there was an easy way to know what was where.” Now his work with the GreenInfo Network gives Bay Area nature enthusiasts that “easy way.”

BN: How did you become involved with GreenInfo Network?

LO: At Greenbelt, we had used computer mapping (GIS) on our “at risk” mapping. A key volunteer there, Louis Jaffe, and I came up with the idea of an intermediary to help other nonprofits make use of the technology. GIS was really cranky technology, very hard to work with (it still is, but less so). I created GreenInfo Network as a non-profit to help other groups get over that hurdle. We help groups figure out and communicate the geographic dimensions of their agendas — issues ranging from child care provision to ecoregional planning. I never thought it would get all that big, but 2011 is our 15th year!

BN: What’s the most pressing/interesting issue you are working on today?

LO: We’re very involved in how to keep track of all the protected areas in California and the U.S. (learn more at Much of what we do supports efforts to conserve nature. Those projects are terrific, like the Upland Habitat Goals project, to be featured in the next issue of Bay Nature The main challenge is adapting to the evolution of mapping technology, choosing skills and capacities that actually help the groups we work for, not just look cool or trendy. That said, we always welcome interest from anyone who wants to support our work (email

BN: What’s your favorite park, hike, or place to go in the Bay Area?

LO: Well, the most dramatic is the Ridge Road trail above Stinson Beach in Marin — it just takes your breath away. I’ve spent a lot of time with my wife and son — now 14 — out on the Inspiration Point trail in Tilden Regional Park. But there’s no end to the great places to go here. One of the best ways to explore all these options is to use the web site, which has every park and open space in California in a neat mapping interface.

About the Author

Ingrid Hawkinson was Bay Nature's marketing director until January 2011, when she returned to school to pursue a career in nursing.

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