Amy Meyer

Think Big

Recorded: March 11, 2014

She is a mother, a volunteer, guardian, author and rebel who thinks big! In 1970, Amy Meyer decided to dedicate her free time to preserve land that in 1972 would become the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  Amy tells a story about her role in protecting one of the largest contiguous pieces of land surrounding a major urban area - over 80,000 acres! For more on this topic, you may want to watch the excellent documentary film: Rebels With a Cause by Nancy Kelly and Kenji Yamamoto and read Amy's book, New Guardians for the Golden Gate, published by UC Press.

Amy Meyer came to the San Francisco Bay Area from New York in 1955. She fell in love with the landscape. As a housewife wanting something more substantial to do, she decided to volunteer with the Sierra Club. There she found kindred spirits. It started with helping to save a piece of land close to her San Francisco home. Within 16 years, Amy would become the co-chair of People for A Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Working as a volunteer for more than 35 years, Amy’s passion and diligence has been instrumental in creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Amy’s book, New Guardians of the Golden Gate explains the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).

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Huey Johnson:    Welcome Amy Meyers.

Amy Meyer:    Thank you.

Huey Johnson:    You’re a hero of mine and it’s been a wonderful time watching you maneuver federal agencies and state agencies and congressional people and one thing or another.  The fame that you’ve accumulated comes from a number of sources, but certainly the most prominent is your visionary advancing of the GGNRA.  You’ve undoubtedly learned some important lessons that might be helpful to others in the future–a 100 years from now, for instance.  Can you share any experiences that were lessons that people could learn from?

Amy Meyer:    I think the basic way of getting people to participate and to be helpful and to be able to work in the future was to develop a very clear set of goals and then stick to them.  Now, I worked with Dr. Edgar Wayburn who was a former president of the Sierra Club, and we wanted to save the headlands of the Golden Gate for public use in perpetuity. And the way to do that was through a national park.  However, Ed had his eyes on Marin County, much further than the Golden Gate.  In fact, what he wanted to do was connect the headlands of the Golden Gate to Point Reyes National Seashore, and that’s what our first set of goals were.  Later on, we took in about an equivalent amount of acreage in San Mateo County.  In the end, what we have is an 80,000 acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and it attaches to Point Reyes National Seashore and other public lands so that it is more than 200,000 acres of connected habitat surrounding an urban area.  No other place has this kind of protection.

Huey Johnson:    Well it’s so wonderful, because if you hadn’t been there, it never would have happened, I don’t think.

Amy Meyer:    I guess there is something to be said about getting involved in a cause that’s beyond yourself.  I guess you know that this has all been volunteer time; I’ve never been paid for any part of it.  The reason I do it is because it’s something that has to be done, I feel compelled to do it.

Amy Meyer:    I came into this at an absolutely crucial time.  I was 5 years too early for my parents to even think of my going to graduate school.  I mean I graduated from college Oberlin [College] in Ohio, a good liberal school. And I said, “Now, I want to become a doctor, a lawyer or an architect,” and they said “Oh no dear, you–you know your job is to get married and have children and that’s what your life is.”  Well, my father had forgotten that he had sort of infected me with the idea of doing something when I was very young. And he would talk to me about things like, “You know, you could be another Madame [Marie] Curie.  You could be another Jane Addams.”  You will notice that Madame Curie and Jane Addams have nothing to do with each other.  It was a general idea that I could do something, be somebody.

Amy Meyer:    The breakthrough in the women’s movement began about 5 years later and began–things began to open up, so that when I graduated from college in 1953, the opening wasn’t there–except for women who are very enterprising, and I was not that enterprising.  I got married, came out to California and had children.  And by the time I got sort of my bearings, and wanting to do something beyond–you know, making dinner parties and carpools– I decided that I would just get involved in a small neighborhood project, and I picked the biggest project that had come–land use–to the Bay Area.  And that message from my father stuck in my head, I could do something.  I had had a good schooling and I was going to make use of it, and besides which, I was bored.  So I decided to get out.  And when I got out, the world, just fascinating with people I met.  Everybody I ever really worked with, you know, in depth was a really interesting and dedicated person in some way, and that made all the difference.  The park was something that I could get emotional about and yet it did not–it was not a part of my marriage, it wasn’t a part of my children, it was something to be done in the community. And it had something of an apartness from me and that made it possible to see it objectively.  And you know, what would be best for it rather than to worry about would I be making money if I did this.  What would be my next advancement in position at a job?  It just–it was out there. It was pure and it was wonderful.

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