As president of Mills College, she encouraged every student to walk and experience the leafy grounds of the Oakland campus every day. This strong connection to nature, as well as her investment in the East Bay community of the San Francisco Bay Area, no doubt led to her tenure as a founding board member of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) from 1934 to 1945. During that time, she saw the establishment of the district’s first four parks, now known as Tilden, Temescal, Sibley, and Redwood.
Today EBRPD encompasses 125,000 acres of beloved parkland. Since the 1940 opening of Redwood Regional Park, there have been efforts to commemorate Dr. Reinhardt’s association with this haven of coast redwoods, which once blanketed the Oakland Hills prior to the logging era. An original 500-acre grove was dubbed Aurelia Reinhardt Redwoods at the time of the park’s opening. “That designation disappeared from park district maps sometime in the 1960s,” says Rosemary Cameron, a League Board of Directors member and retired EBRPD Assistant General Manager of Public Affairs. This was possibly due to administrative errors. “Her name had basically been erased from park district history.”
Born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, Dr. Reinhardt was a pillar of her community. “She was quite the activist, socially and environmentally,” says Dee Rosario, EBRPD Ward 2 board member. “At the same time she was advocating for EBRPD, she was on the Parks Commission for the city of Oakland. So, she had a hand in forming the original parks for the city. On top of that, while she was serving on the board for the regional parks, she was also serving as a commissioner for Parks and Recreation for Alameda County.”
“The depth and the breadth of her engagement at really high levels across international issues, local issues—she was clearly an exception to the more traditional roles that women played in society in the late 19th century to the early 20th century,” says Cameron. “A woman in 1934 getting elected and serving for as many years as she did on the EBRPD board—it was remarkable.”
In 2004, Cameron was involved in a formal re-dedication of the Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Redwood Grove. Now in the EBRPD’s 85th anniversary year, the entire park will officially bear Dr. Reinhardt’s name as Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. Rosario advocated for the name change. “We had all these parks named for some of the original founders of the parks district—Charles Lee Tilden, Robert Sibley, Tommy Roberts,” he says. “That speaks a lot to how history gets written. Back then I don’t think women got their due in writing and in recognition. I’m hoping this will empower more women to become part of the parks movement.”
A nod to Dr. Reinhardt’s legacy, the renaming of this park in the heart of Oakland’s native forest is significant, as she was as much an advocate for under-resourced and marginalized peoples as she was for environmental issues. “A lot of her civic duties dealt with improving Oakland and taking care of its people,” says Rosario. “I think it’s extremely important that people recognize that women had huge roles in the civic responsibilities within our cities and counties and in the formation of what we know as California today.”
As a lifetime member of Save the Redwoods League, Dr. Reinhardt supported the conservation of California’s signature forests—“Our nation’s garden on whose Wester borders rises the forest with its Sequoia columns, stately pillars of giganteum and sempervirens!” she declared in her GCA Grove dedication address. She remains an inspiration for the work the League does to protect and restore redwoods, and connect people with the peace and beauty of the outdoors.
“Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park is one of the most visited parks in the East Bay, giving Oakland’s diverse population direct access to nature, which is so critical to the health and well-being of our communities,” says League President Sam Hodder. “Fostering this connection to the land is how we inspire good stewardship of our redwood forests and forests at large, and also how we as a society sustain ourselves. Congratulations to our partners at the EBRPD for elevating their remarkable history and immortalizing a woman of great consequence, who worked so hard to bring the outdoors to life for so many people.”