A Native History of the East Bay Redwoods

From forests to creeks to trails, every natural space has a past that predates our conventional history books. Few people today realize that the hills of the East Bay were once home to coast redwood forests of incredible stature. Living among them were the Ohlone people.

Joaquin Miller Park. Photo by Steve Wedgwood, Flickr Creative Commons

Our city parks protect the remnants of these forests of time immemorial. In a recent segment, a KALW listener posed an interesting question about the origins of one of these gems, the Dimond Canyon hiking trail that runs along Sausal Creek in East Oakland’s Dimond Park. In search of the answer, journalist Bill Joyce went on a journey.

On a scenic walk through Dimond Canyon with Stan Dodson, founder of League partner Oakland Trails (an organization dedicated to promoting and stewarding the city’s parks and trails), Joyce saw an urban oasis being restored with native plant seedlings along the banks. They ventured deeper into the forest of native oak, buckeye, and bay trees mixed with nonnative trees, to the Palos Colorados trailhead in Joaquin Miller Park, a gateway to the East Bay’s largest stand of redwoods (in the adjacent Redwood Regional Park).

Muwekma Ohlone tribe member Vincent Medina illuminated the Native history of the area for Joyce. According to Medina, the Ohlone lived among the redwoods near the Palos Colorados trail for centuries. He painted a picture of the precolonial East Bay, which, according to tribal traditions, consisted of independent sovereign nations that traveled and lived seasonally along the creeks, including Sausal Creek, from the Oakland hills all the way to San Francisco Bay. They gathered seeds and acorns, hunted venison, and performed controlled burns in these very forests.

Hundreds of years later, the old-growth redwoods may be gone from the East Bay, but the second-growth redwoods remain—as do the Ohlone people, who persisted through the logging era, missionization, and the loss of federal recognition and their lands. Today, they continue their work to revive their traditions. This is a little-known story of resilience and reclamation, essential for all Bay Area people. Read or listen to the story in full at KALW.

Plan your visit to Joaquin Miller Park at Explore Redwoods.

About the author

Dana Viloria joined Save the Redwoods League in 2019 as Writer/Storyteller and Editor. In addition to amplifying people’s stories in nature, she loves building community in the outdoors.

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2 Responses to “A Native History of the East Bay Redwoods”

  1. Sandra Allen

    I can hardly wait to make the trip back to the Redwood forests for my 70th. birthday ! I hope to be there the spring / summer of 2021. My family traveled through the area of California where I first was amazed at the beautiful trees. I remember one tree that was carved into a 20 ft. bear and an altar where folks were joined in matrimony. Thank you so much for the work you do there and keeping me informed.

    • Save the Redwoods League

      We can’t wait to see you in the redwoods!


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