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Trails Forever works with volungees to renovate and expand the trail system, and protect natural areas throughout the Golden Gate National Parks— an 80,400-acre greenbelt in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.


arrow This project was nominated for a Partnership Award as part of the 2008 National Trails Awards, announced at the 19th National Trails Symposium in Little Rock, Arkansas.


Trails Forever mobilizes volunteers and resources for Golden Gate parks

An innovative inter-agency program, Trails Forever was launched in 2003 by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, National Park Service (NPS), and Presidio Trust. The goal is to renovate and expand park trails, build a world-class trail system, and protect natural areas throughout the Golden Gate National Parks— an 80,400-acre greenbelt through San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties. This collaborative effort addresses a wide scope of work in a wide variety of park settings, within a relatively short period of time, and through the cooperation of three very different organizations.

photo of trail worker

an interdisciplinary program, "Trails Forever" draws on the talents
and resources of agencies and organizations working together


Trails Forever is unique because it is an interdisciplinary program in every sense of the word. First, it merges the interests and goals of three groups with distinct organizational personalities and idiosyncrasies. The NPS is the federal unit within the Department of the Interior that officially manages national parklands. The Parks Conservancy is a member-supported nonprofit in support of the parks. The Presidio Trust is the federal agency responsible for making the Presidio a culturally enriching and financially self-sustaining entity.

Furthermore, the work of Trails Forever requires the talents of (and communication between) many different departments within each organization—experts in natural resources, cultural resources, trail and visitor use, and accessibility. The energies of staff from all facets of these organizations were necessary to carry out the broad vision for Trails Forever—an effort to expand the bounds of trail planning and implementation beyond physical parameters of trail tread and distance and width to less tangible dimensions that encompass the entire experience of trail life.

This paradigmatic shift, beyond boards and bolts, reorients the field to an “integrated landscape” level so that trail work holistically incorporates cultural experiences, endangered species protection, youth programming, volunteer stewardship, and more.

photo of kids ontrail

Teens on Trails offers young people work and
education on the trails

Such a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing a diversity of perspectives, fits the disparate and rather far-flung nature of the Golden Gate National Parks themselves. Stretching 80 miles from north tip to south, the more than 30 park sites entered the system with unique histories of use—from Spanish-era military posts and Cold War missile sites to agricultural lands and cattle ranches.

Much of Trails Forever work involves revitalizing, restoring, and realigning the pre-existing “accidental trail system” through such areas to create safe, dedicated trails for all park visitors. This partnership initiative’s projects and programs take place in an expansive spectrum of environments, from windswept beaches to redwood groves, and from quiet Headlands backcountry to trailheads in the heart of a bustling city.

In just five years, Trails Forever has helped finish:

• Four new major trails (Presidio Batteries to Bluffs Trail, Chapel Steps Trail, Mori Point Coastal Trail, and Presidio Promenade)

• Significant reconstruction of 11 trails throughout the Golden Gate National Parks

• 51 miles of trail improvements and maintenance parkwide

• Four new overlooks

• 34 new trailhead kiosks parkwide

• 450 new wayfinding signs on Coastal Trail ( Trails Forever’s signage system garnered an award from the Society of Environmental Graphic Design)

• 994 acres of enhanced natural habitat; 32 acres of restored habitat

• Two urban community trailheads to encourage diverse populations to enjoy trails

A key contribution of the program is helping promote a more positive public awareness of issues and opportunities in the parks. In addition to the “on the ground” improvements within the system, Trails Forever has focused on enhancing the interactions between trails in the Golden Gate National Parks and park visitors. Trails Forever boosted the visibility and understanding of trail work in the Bay Area by establishing a strong brand identity for this initiative, informing the public of ongoing trail construction, and encouraging stewardship of trails and habitats.

logo with rabbit

Trails Forever logo (designed by
graphic designer Michael Schwab

The striking Trails Forever logo (designed by acclaimed graphic designer Michael Schwab) has given the program an immediately recognizable identity. It can be found prominently on field staff attire, volunteer gifts, e-newsletters, publications of the Parks Conservancy/NPS/Presidio Trust, trail maps and brochures, informational kiosks, and wayfinding signage.

The logo helps establish the Trails Forever initiative “brand” as a known and trusted entity for conservation and stewardship in the community, while elevating the public profile of trail planning and implementation. Another essential element of Trails Forever’s outreach and interface with the public has been the hiring and training of 37 Project Information Coordinators (PICs).

Dispatched to park sites where there may be community sensitivity to a particular project, PICs have interacted with about 17,000 visitors. On site, PICs boost visibility for Trails Forever, provide a friendly source of information to concerned neighbors and park visitors, and also serve as an invaluable gauge of public opinion on the trail work.

A special volunteer group of Trail Keepers perform similar functions in the Golden Gate National Parks. Trail Keepers, who monitor trail conditions and interact with fellow trail users, represent just one of the novel volunteer programs to grow from Trails Forever.

photo of people talking on trail

Trail Keepers monitor trails and interact with fellow trail users

Teens on Trails is another example, offering opportunities for young people to turn their days off from school (such as Veterans Day) to “days on” the trails, restoring native habitat and learning about the natural environment. In total, the Trails Forever program has organized more than 4,000 new volunteers who contributed 85,000 hours of trail work— all while learning about the process of trail design and construction.

By communicating with the public in a consistent and coherent way about the value of trails, the Trails Forever initiative has significantly raised trails awareness within the community in general and the philanthropic community in particular. Since Trails Forever was launched in 2003, the program has helped bring in over $36 million for trail projects and programs in the Golden Gate National Parks, drawing from new private and state funding sources, as well as new federal funding partners.

The remarkable achievements of Trails Forever are a testament to the partnership of the NPS, Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust—and the unity and strength of our common vision.


For more information:

Trails Forever, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Address:
Building 201, Fort Mason, San Francisco CA 94123
Phone: (415) 561-3085 Fax: (415) 561-3033


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