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Ecological Restoration and Stewardship

We’re revitalizing the Presidio’s wetlands, grasslands, sand dunes, and creeks.

The Presidio is home to some of San Francisco’s last wild native habitats. We’re revitalizing the park’s natural areas for all to enjoy.

Shaped by geology and climate, the land we now call the Presidio was once blanketed with ecologically vibrant wetlands, grasslands, sand dunes, and creeks. 

Over centuries, people shaped the land: from the Ohlone who used fire to regenerate seed to the U.S. Army which developed a military post that impacted these habitats, leading to the loss of plants and wildlife. 

Despite the changes, natural habitats remain – and are being expanded through the practice of ecological restoration and land stewardship. The Presidio Trust, the National Park Service, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy – with thousands of volunteers – are bringing back natural systems. 

These case studies explore some our major efforts.

Case Study 1: Tennessee Hollow Watershed

Tennessee Hollow is the Presidio’s largest watershed. It encompasses 270 acres in the eastern Presidio, about 20 percent of the park. It begins with springs near the Presidio Gate. The waters then flow north through three seasonal creeks before blending into the salt water of San Francisco Bay.

Over decades, the U.S. Army greatly altered this area by creating buildings roads, and landfills, burying much of the creek underground.

Since the Presidio has been a national park site, we’re restored more than 50 acres of native habitat here. Serpentine grasslands have been expanded at Inspiration Point. Native wetland habitat has been restored at El Polin Spring and Thompson Reach. And tidal salt marshes have been brought back to life at Crissy Marsh and Quartermaster Reach Marsh.

Quartermaster Reach Marsh in the Tennessee Hollow Watershed

Revitalizing Tennessee Hollow

Colorful native plants below Inspiration Point.
Native spring wildflowers bloom at the Inspiration Point grasslands.
Students monitoring oyster restoration at Quartermaster Reach Marsh.
Students monitor oyster restoration at Quartermaster Reach Marsh.
Colorful wildflowers at Thompson Reach in the Presidio.
We restored native willow riparian vegetation at Thompson Reach.

Case Study 2: Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake is one of San Francisco’s last natural lakes and the only natural lake in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For millennia, San Francisco’s first people, the Ohlone, were inhabitants. And it was here in 1776 that Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition camped as they scouted where to build their military fort or “presidio.” 

Mountain Lake later went through rough times. In 1939, a highway to the Golden Gate Bridge was built, shrinking the lake’s size. Runoff from the nearby golf course and highway spoiled water quality. Locals released unwanted pets, pushing out native wildlife. 

With help from scientists, academic institutions, and volunteers, Mountain Lake is rebounding. In 2013 and 2014, we removed polluted soil and invasive species. Native species are now being reestablished – from underwater plants to the Western pond turtle and Pacific chorus frog.  

VIDEO: Urban Ecology at Mountain Lake

Revitalizing Mountain Lake

Volunteers planted native plants at Mountain Lake in 2014.
Volunteers planting native plants in 2014.
Students reintroducing native Pacific chorus frogs to Mountain Lake in 2015.
Students reintroduced native Pacific chorus frogs in 2015.
Black and white photo of Mountain Lake in 1939.
Mountain Lake was shrunk in 1939 to accommodate a roadway.

Case Study 3: Sand Dunes

Much of San Francisco was once a sand dune ecosystem that supported a diverse group of plant and animal species. Some of these, such as the now endangered San Francisco lessingia, were found only here. 

Although small remnants of sand dunes persisted during the Presidio’s Army era, more 70 acres of sand dunes have been restored throughout the Presidio since it became a national park site. You can experience dune restoration along the Mountain Lake Trail and the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. 

VIDEO: Learning from Xerces Blue Butterfly

Bringing Back Native Sand Dunes

Silverbush lupine in the foredunes at Baker Beach.
Silverbush lupine can be seen in the foredunes at Baker Beach.
Landfill removal was followed by sand dune restoration.
Landfill removal was followed by sand dune restoration.
Volunteers removed invasive dune plants on Earth Day 1997.
Volunteers remove invasive dune plants on Earth Day 1997.