Marin County Parks
How It All Began
by Michael Warner, PRAC Region 1 Director
Marin County Parks origins began in 1939 with the purchase of Stinson Beach on the pacific coast. The beach was later transferred in 1950 to the California State Park System, and then eventually the National Park System. It would be another twenty years before Marin County would venture into owning parks or open space.
During that twenty year period Marin County would grow from a very rural outlaying area to a suburban cityscape with many settlements doubling or quadrupling in size. In the late 1960s several large developments including a city that was planned to be built along the west Marin County coast to include 125,000 people and to upgrade Highway 1 to a four lane freeway finally caused the public to take action. The public was asking “Can the last place last?”
After a series of elections that brought about a new set of county board of supervisors, Marin County adopted a new general plan in 1972. The plan limited development and provided for the creation of a parks department. The Marin County Open Space District was also formed that same year by public vote. The Marin County Open Space District would be managed by the Marin County Parks Department, but would retain its own separate budget funded by parcel taxes and its own staff.
Over the next 40 years the parks department added four regional parks starting with McNears Beach in 1970, and soon followed by Paradise Beach, McInnis Park, and Stafford Lake Park. The parks department also manages 27 other outlaying park facilities and two boat launches.
The Marin County Open Space District on the other hand, through the use of matching bond funds and public assistance, has acquired 34 Open Space Preserves totaling approximately 20,000 acres throughout the county. There are over 200 miles of roads and trails that traverse a wide diversity of landscapes including oak-savannahs, bay laurel-madrone forests, conifer forests, chaparral, and open grasslands.
In 2012 the Marin County Parks Department merged with the Marin County Open Space District changing the face of the department completely. Also in Marin County, voters passed Measure A, a bond measure to improve County Park and open space facilities, and to expand staffing for both parks and open space. Today the department is continuing to expand and improve its facilities.
Recently (2014) the department completed its Vegetation and Biodiversity Management plan helping protect many of its rare native landscapes, for example Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve with its 12 endangered and endemic plant and insect species.
Marin County Parks is also in the middle of its Road and Trail management plan process which is adopting many “Social Trails” into the system network and helping provide more trail use opportunities for all user groups.