The Presidio is a 1,480-acre urban national park at the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. This former military post is home to a wide diversity of natural habitats, more than 700 structures, and spectacular vistas. In 1994, the site transferred from the US Army to the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS and its nonprofit partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (the Conservancy), began transforming the Presidio into a national park. The process proved difficult due to challenges including a lack of basic infrastructure to host visitors, the cost of caring for a large number of facilities with historic designation, and the need for substantial environmental remediation on the property. In 1996, the US government created a new agency, the Presidio Trust (the Trust), to help address these issues and make the park financially self-sufficient by 2013.
Following an extensive public engagement and planning process spanning multiple years, the NPS, the Conservancy, and the Trust began construction on their first collaborative capital project in 2003. Named the Presidio Trails, Bikeways, and Overlooks project, it would create a network of 24 miles of trail, 19 miles of bikeway, and eight overlooks to transform the site into a functioning park. The mission of the capital project was to improve access to a range of high-quality experiences in the Presidio. Related goals included supporting natural resource preservation, contributing to a comprehensive transportation strategy, and promoting ongoing stewardship of this historic site.
The partners outlined their vision for a connected network of trails, bikeways, and overlooks through a master plan comprised of multiple sub-projects, and divided management responsibilities based on each sub-project's location and funding sources as well as each organization's capacity and strengths. The team phased implementation of the master plan in accordance with a defined set of priorities; the majority of trails, bikeways, and overlooks discussed in this case study were completed by 2015.
As a result of these and other improvements, the Presidio now serves millions of visitors annually. The array of trails, bikeways, and overlooks attracts people to the park, providing opportunities for recreation and exercise as well as exposure to the unique natural and cultural resources of the Presidio. The network of trails and bikeways through the site provides an alternative to motorized transportation, and connects to public transit systems within and outside the Presidio. Designated trails prevent degradation of natural ecosystems, while the completed overlooks provide easy access to sweeping views that include the area's landmarks. To minimize ongoing costs and promote involvement with the Presidio, the Conservancy and the Trust launched programs that engage volunteers to protect, restore, and maintain the corridors and overlooks. The successful completion of park improvements attracted support from donors, helping the NPS, the Conservancy, and the Trust continue their partnership and initiate new projects within the Presidio.
This case study is based on research conducted by MASS Design Group in August 2015. Funded by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, this case illustrates how a capital project can draw on the unique capabilities of partners as well as involve its community in co-creating public spaces that generate meaningful experiences for visitors.