Lesbian named chief of SF national park

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday March 25, 2015
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A top-ranking lesbian National Park Service employee who has infuriated dog owners and local recreation activists has been named the incoming superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The GGNRA is a sprawling collection of open spaces and historical sites in three Bay Area counties and is the most visited park in the federal system, having hosted more than 15 million visitors last year. It stretches from Rancho Corral de Tierra in Montara on the Peninsula south of San Francisco to Stinson Beach in Marin County north of the city.

Within San Francisco, the park encompasses all of Ocean Beach, Land's End, Alcatraz, Fort Funston, and the Fort Point National Historic Site at the southern base of the Golden Gate Bridge. It also administers the stand of old growth coastal redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument.

Beginning in May Christine S. Lehnertz will be in charge of overseeing the 43-year-old park that now comprises 80,000 acres of protected lands in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties. The regional director since 2010 for the park service's class=articletext> Pacific West region, Lehnertz is class=articletext>replacing Frank Dean, who retired in February.

The park service did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter's request to interview Lehnertz, who lives with her wife, Shari Dagg, in Sonoma County with Choco, a "courageous cat" they rescued in Yellowstone, according to a March 18 news release announcing her appointment.

"Being the superintendent at a large urban park is an incredible opportunity that I couldn't pass up," stated Lehnertz. "It's realizing a personal dream. I'm thrilled at the chance to work with the wonderful staff and partners who care so much about these amazing park resources at Golden Gate. A connection to nature and to our nation's heritage can be an inspiring and enduring relationship. I invite everyone to come and see these special places and learn more about our shared stories."

Local recreation activists and San Francisco officials have tangled with Lehnertz over the park service's recent moves they contend will restrict recreational activities at various GGNRA properties. They have also engaged in a years-long dispute with Lehnertz and park officials over changes to the GGNRA's dog management plan, the final version of which is set to be released this summer and is likely to increase the number of park sites where canines off-leash will be banned in order to protect wildlife species.

News of Lehnertz's appointment as GGNRA superintendent was thus not exactly met with wild enthusiasm from the umbrella group Save Our Recreation, which has been organizing protests of the park service's management moves and marshaling support from local elected leaders.

According to the group, Lehnertz has repeatedly refused to meet with it to discuss concerns about the new general management plan that she signed in January or about the rule changes governing dogs. While it congratulated her on her promotion, the group also called on Lehnertz "to reset" how she works with local communities in her new role.

"This is an opportunity to turn a new leaf in our relationship with the GGNRA," stated Andrea Buffa, a leader with Save Our Recreation, in a release issued last week. "We urge Superintendent Lehnertz to stay true to the mission of this national recreation area and be responsive to the community."

Another vocal critic of the park service's dog rules and other policies is San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, a gay man who represents the Castro district. While he doesn't recall meeting Lehnertz, Wiener has met with Dean on numerous occasions to express his concerns about the public's access to GGNRA sites.

"I have lot of respect for the GGNRA and for its personnel; they care passionately about the federal park properties. But I have a strong disagreement with them about their proposed restrictions on dogs and other recreation access," said Wiener. "The GGNRA properties are not backwoods national parks. These are urban national park areas that San Francisco residents have relied on for decades to walk their dogs and for other recreations."

He told the B.A.R. this week he would request a meeting with Lehnertz once she assumes her new job as the national park service's policies greatly impact not only his constituents but the city as a whole.

"The proposed dog restrictions have negative consequences for many residents of our city. They will push many dogs into our already overcrowded neighborhood parks," said Wiener. "I continue to be opposed to these restrictions on dog access."