Conservancy staff pause to bird watch while hiking the Green Gulch trail above the Pacific coastline in California's Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Marin Headlands Conservancy staff pause to bird watch while hiking the Green Gulch trail above the Pacific coastline in California's Golden Gate National Recreation Area. © The Nature Conservancy (Mark Godfrey)

Places We Protect

Marin Headlands

California

“We learned the power of partnerships with the Marincello fight.”

Every day, hundreds of thousands of people gaze at the majestic Marin Headlands. These spectacular steep hills anchor the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, creating one of the Bay Area’s most iconic images.

Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the Marin Headlands is one of the most visited sites in the national park system. More than 13 million visitors a year make the pilgrimage to the headlands, while 3 million cars a month traverse the Golden Gate Bridge.

The land is rich with plants and animals found nowhere else. In fact, the GGNRA contains more endangered species than any other national park in the continental U.S.

A Treasure Nearly Lost

But very few people know that in the 1960s plans were approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors to build a town in the headlands called Marincello — a 2,000-acre development that would house 30,000 people and called for 50 apartment towers, vast tracts of single-family homes, a "landmark hotel" and a mile-long shopping center along the headlands, pristine shoreline and hills.

The planned community immediately sparked a legal battle that lasted for more than six years. And The Nature Conservancy was deep in the heart of the battle.

The Conservancy partnered with local citizens and other environmentalists to halt the project, fighting the developer Thomas Frouge and the landowners, Gulf Oil.

The Power of Many

According to Henry Little, senior project director with the Conservancy who worked on this project, “We learned the power of partnerships with the Marincello fight. We could never have accomplished this without the dedicated team who joined us.”

The team took their fight to the streets, gathering signatures and generating interest for the cause. They filed lawsuits in both federal and state courts. In the midst of the struggle, Frouge passed away.

Gulf knew they were in trouble and kept scaling back the project to appease the Conservancy and its team. They finally gave up, and in May 1972 the Conservancy acquired the headlands. The Conservancy transferred the land to the National Park Service in 1975 to form the basis for The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban parks in the world.

 

The Marin Headlands is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the most visited sites in the national park system.

Make a Difference in California

We have protected 1.5 million acres of landscapes and 3.8 million acres of sea floor and off our coast in California—habitats that are essential to the survival of nature and people.