Greg Archbald


Recorded: May 5, 2012

A man of ideas, Greg talks about finding meaning in your life, knowing who you are, and why volunteerism is crucial to protecting important park lands.

Ideas come easily to Greg Archbald and he is likely to implement them. The protection and conservation of important land and valuable natural resources has been Greg Archbald’s life’s work. As an attorney and former general counsel, Mr. Archbald co-founded the Trust for Public Land. In this role, he has advanced a range of creative ideas for land conservation and the acquisition of essential natural real estate which has resulted in the protection of irreplaceable natural habitat, parks, and open spaces.

In the 1990’s, Mr. Archbald implemented another idea. He believed that by promoting generation-crossing traditions like volunteerism in National Parks, he could create a cadre of lifetime conservationists. To test his theory, Mr. Archbald was appointed director of volunteer development and conservation projects for the Golden Gate National Parks Association. He developed programs for volunteers in the national park which confirmed that individuals were far more protective of the heritage of the land that they helped to restore or keep clean. This pilot program employed thousands of volunteers in Golden Gate National Parks and the program was later applied to other parks in the United States. With his many vibrant and practical ideas, Greg Archbald has created a living legacy for years to come.

Greg Archibald: Really, really know what has heart and meaning for you because — one of my passions came out of having grown up in Orange County. I watched the thing get bulldozed under in the time it took me to grow up and graduate from high school. There, in what used to be open fields suddenly became strip malls and subdivisions and that really hurt.  I wanted to do something about it. But the same is true now for a kid who’s growing up thinking, “well, climate change is…I’m going to live with it all my life, there’s no doubt about it. The science is in and I’m going to be stuck with it, and I want to do something about that.” So, they can’t just take on the whole thing, but their passion could be, let’s say in public relations or in social media. And if they’re really, really good at social media, they might be the ones that invent a way to — a new way of politically organizing that eventually buries the oil companies in an avalanche of public opinion. That caring from the heart I think is just absolutely important, to this day. And people who know themselves, know their capabilities. It’s good to always work on yourself a little bit and understand what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at and having habits like being able to surround yourself by really smart people who can help you do the things you want to get done. I think all those are lessons that are still very, very good.

Huey Johnson: Yeah it’s success, working with volunteers and park service stuff in urban settings.

Greg Archibald: Well that’s another interesting one; people who are getting into a career might be interested in this. I ask myself, what does it take to take care of something in perpetuity? And it sounds like a simple question but if you work on that it’s not an easy one. And how do you take care of a piece of land in perpetuity? And the answer I came up with is, well, it has to be something that is a matched perpetuity, and the only thing I could think of about that – was traditions. If we started traditions that would carry on from one generation to another, we would have a force that was able to take care of a piece of land. And like, you go to the school, there are always children playing there, they’re just not the same children. You go to drive by a church, they’re always people going in and out of the church; they’re not always the same parishioners. But those are traditions that are deeply embedded in our society.  And I figure that if we could get something deeply embedded in our society, it would be a match for taking care of the land.

Greg Archbald: And so I went to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, specifically to the parks, then it was called the Golden Gate National Parks Association.  I proposed that we get the community involved in the park plans in a new and different way at a much higher magnitude and make a difference in the way those lands were managed and cared for. And also, build a constituency for the park at the same time. And thankfully, I was taken in, and I was able to exercise that and establish programs that are still going on today. It’s based on that principle. Any Sunday you go out into the Marin Headlands or down onto the San Mateo Coast, you’ll find groups of people out there with their weed wrenches pulling out broom or with their picks working on a trail. Or you’ll find kids working in native plant nurseries all around the park. It is a wonderful tradition that has been established now, and those programs just keep building and building and building.

Greg Archbald: When volunteers come out and work on a project — and that includes everything from kids working in the native plant nursery when they’re in school programs all the way up to senior citizens who are out there doing something because they love that land — they will fight for that land if it’s ever threatened. And they are a built-in ballast against, against degrading that land. They’re watching it, because they put their own time into it. And I think that probably, if someone wanted to pursue that theme around the country, they would find that it’s happening in Florida, it’s happening in Massachusetts, it’s happening in Ohio. When I left the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1999 and retired, they were logging something like 300,000 volunteer hours a year in the program. If you value that at 20 dollars an hour, you’ve got 6 million dollars of effort that’s going into that park. It’s phenomenal and I think that’s happening in many other parks now.