Features

The Conservationist

by Brittany Shoot

Greg Moore is the humble force behind the Golden Gate National Parks’ nonprofit branch. Don’t underestimate him.

When you live in San Francisco, it’s easy to take our unique, connected park sites for granted. Across a staggering 80,000 acres of parkland, we are constantly close to areas of tremendous natural history, with 10 former military bases and 1,200 species, including abundant native plants and endangered animals.

Although he is hardly one to crow at his own achievements, Greg Moore is the driving force ensuring that every Bay Area resident and visitor enjoys access to areas as diverse as Muir Woods, Alcatraz and Lands End. Moore is the longtime president and CEO of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the nonprofit partner to the Golden Gate National Parks, assisting the parks with conservation, research and, of course, donor-led financial support.

Moore, with his wide smile, crinkly eyes, and egret-white beard, exudes enthusiasm for our public lands, and for the people who support his life’s work. His humble corner office in a former army barrack in Fort Mason sits above a lush community garden and offers sweeping views from Twin Peaks across to the Marin Headlands. “There’s a special magic of this history, nature and culture adjacent to an area as vital and creative as the Bay Area,” he says with delight, gesturing at fog-engulfed Golden Gate Bridge.

Following a 1956 National Park Service initiative to expand the national park service system, a new urban park, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was created in 1972. In 1981, the nonprofit Parks Conservancy (then called the Golden Gate National Parks Association) was established to preserve and enhance the parks, and to build a community dedicated to that same vision. In 1985, Moore became the Conservancy’s CEO and president.

The organization’s umbrella mission can be best understood by breaking down its motto, “Parks for All Forever,” into three sections. The Conservancy protects the parkland, as well as ensures that public lands remain accessible to all, for generations to come. The work depends on donors, plus community partnerships with institutions such as the YMCA and San Francisco Public Library, which further the Conservancy’s educational programming.

Even with 30-plus years on the job, Moore marvels at the diversity of the parks’ offerings. “People think of parks as places you go to get away,” he muses. “But here, our parks are the city’s living room.”

Moore is the exact sort of even-tempered consensus-maker to oversee conservation and education efforts of huge swaths of the Bay Area’s public lands. Exceedingly self-effacing and generous, he’s quick to praise colleagues and supporters, such as ad man Rich Silverstein, who designed the Conservancy’s iconic branding, and prominent donors including the late Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., whose family funded projects including Crissy Field, which literally reshaped and revitalized the city’s northern waterfront.

Moore’s humility is part natural temperament, part molding from the job. A middle child who learned diplomacy from an early age, he grew up in a military family always on the move. During high school in Orange County, he got a gig at Disneyland, working up from street sweeper to boat captain on the popular ride Jungle Cruise, which offered him incomparable on-the-job training in visitor services, he jokes.

After earning a bachelor of science in conservation of natural resources, he was hired straight out of UC Berkeley by the National Parks Service. He worked as a ranger before joining the fledgling, four-year-old Conservancy in 1985. From roughly three staffers up to nearly 350 now, he has cultivated tremendous growth without getting stuck in the weeds.

Before cross-sector partnerships were commonplace, the Conservancy was leading by example. The most successful partnerships are about deferred gratification, Moore says, because with time, achieving consensus can achieve bigger yield. One of the Conservancy’s most recent major initiatives, unveiled in 2017, is One Tam. The alliance brings together municipal, state parks and national parks services to ensure the long-term health of Mount Tamalpais, as well as the public’s access to the peak.

Crissy Field may be the most strikingly obvious example of Conservancy-led work. (Moore was years into his tenure with the Conservancy when his retired pilot father realized that several times during his Air Force career, he had landed there.) Restoring the former military airfield was possible thanks to an $18 million lead grant from the Haas Jr. Fund and from Colleen and Robert Haas in 1997—at the time the largest-ever cash donation to the National Park Service. “Philanthropic and civic leaders stepped up at breathtaking levels, and at the right time,” Moore notes. “They gave to an ambitious project and to what was, at the time, a relatively small organization.”

Another significant piece of our ever-evolving urban park landscape, the Presidio Tunnel Tops project, will further the public’s access to Crissy Field, connecting over Highway 101 all the way up to the year-old Presidio Visitor Center. Designed by James Corner Field Operations—the landscape architecture firm most famous for New York City’s High Line—the Presidio Tunnel Tops construction is supported locally by architecture firm EHDD and Swinerton Builders. And, of course, Conservancy donors continue to be the driving force behind the $90 million project, which is about two-thirds funded so far.

Perhaps even greater than his love of the outdoors, Moore also appreciates how deeply San Franciscans understand how short-term investments improve our beautiful home for generations to come. “With a conservation action today, the dividends are exponential,” he declares, with a happy grin.

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