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Diamond in the Rough

The East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) and the Regional Parks Foundation (RPF) celebrated its 75th and 40th anniversaries, respectively, on Saturday, May 22, 2010. The event was an enormous success and was attended by nearly 500 supporters, including East Bay community leaders, donors, volunteers, local businesses, and corporations. Proceeds raised from the "Diamond in the Rough" event helped to support the Regional Parks Foundation's Campership Program, providing camping scholarships to low-income, at-risk, and disabled youth.

EBRPD General Manager Pat O'Brien introduced Master of Ceremonies Doug McConnell, host of KQED's Open Road, and special legislative recognition for the Park District was presented by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California State Senators Loni Hancock and Mark DeSaulnier, and California State Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner and Joan Buchanan. EBRPD Board President Doug Siden and RPF Board President Jay Gilson of RINA accountancy corporation also spoke, and RPF Executive Director Rosemary Cameron urged participants to support the Regional Parks Foundation's Campership Program.

Click below to view highlights of this wonderful event.

Celebrating 75 Years...

"Diamond in the Rough" was the theme of the East Bay Regional Park District's 75th anniversary, evoking the rugged beauty of the District's 65 regional parklands, which preserve and protect some of the East Bay's most spectacular open spaces. Appropriately, this celebration took place at Lake Temescal, one of the District's original parklands and its first headquarters. The venue was a window back in time to where the story began.

The Park District was established in a time of great challenge. The year was 1934, during the greatest economic depression in American history. Yet despite the urgent needs of the moment, community leaders had the wisdom to work for preservation of open space and recreational parklands for future generations to enjoy. What began as a vision of far-sighted civic leaders seeking to set aside surplus watershed lands in the Oakland and Berkeley hills later became a grass-roots movement to create a park agency that would maintain a balance between recreational opportunities and wilderness preservation.

Leaders of the movement placed a measure on the ballot that passed by a resounding 71 percent, despite the difficult financial times. In one stroke it established the Regional Park District, authorized an ad valorem tax, elected a board of directors and put into motion the purchase of the first three regional parklands from surplus water district lands.

The District's founders would be amazed and delighted at the degree to which their original vision has been achieved and even exceeded. From its modest start, the District has expanded to include 65 regional parklands and 1,100 miles of trails, totaling more than 100,000 acres of publicly owned land throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. It's the largest regional park agency in the United States. Besides offering a wonderful variety of outdoor recreational opportunities, these parklands preserve critical wildlife habitat, and constitute a vast outdoor classroom in which youth and adults alike can learn important lessons about our interdependence with the natural world.

Critical to this achievement was passage by voters in 1988 of Measure AA, a $225 million open space bond issue that enabled the greatest expansion in the Park District's history. The District increased its land holding by more than one-third, partly by using bond revenues to leverage more than $79 million in matching funds. Voters reaffirmed their confidence in the District and its mission in 2008 by approving Measure WW, a $500 million extension of Measure AA to continue preservation efforts through land acquisition. Passed by 71.7 percent, Measure WW is the largest regional park bond ever approved in the United States.

Another major factor in the Park District's success is the Regional Parks Foundation, which now is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Established in 1969, the Foundation is a tax-exempt, sole purpose, non-profit corporation that supports the Park District's programs and facilities. The Foundation's Campership, Educator's Academy, Membership, and other effective programs help enhance the public's use and enjoyment of the Regional Parks. The Foundation also raises private funding for broader public access. One of the Foundation's priorities is to ensure that underserved populations have equal access to the District's parks, trails, programs, and services - an initiative appropriately called "Access for All."

As we anticipate a bright future, we are mindful that the challenges faced by the Park District today are not dissimilar to those of 1934. The demands of an increasing, diverse population make it even more imperative that the region's natural beauty be preserved for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. And while accomplishing this, the District must also find the resources to protect and maintain the parklands it has already acquired. As the Park District master plan states, "An environmental ethic guides us in all that we do."

The challenges are great, but the outlook is promising. The public support that made possible establishment of the Park District in 1934 has only increased during the years since then. The East Bay Regional Park District can look to the past with pride and to the future with optimism.

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