A new day for California’s redwood parks

League launches campaign to enrich and expand redwood experiences

I’ll never forget my first time visiting a redwood forest. Even though I was born and raised in California, I didn’t see a redwood in real life until I was well into adulthood and I went to Muir Woods National Monument. The trees themselves were awe inspiring, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised by the forest as a whole — the playful green ferns, trickling creek, dappled sunlight, and a peaceful feeling of immersion.

Like most people, my first (and many following) experiences with redwoods were in parks. Parks are how we gain access to and inspiration from the redwoods, and they’re where we go in the best of times and in the hardest of times. Never has this been more clear than in 2020. COVID-19 not only shut us out of workplaces, schools, restaurants, theaters, and our favorite shops, but it also shut down some of our most beloved parks for a while. When they reopened, they saw significantly increased visitation. Then the wildfires of the summer and fall closed several of them again. Some, like the treasured Big Basin Redwoods State Park, saw so much damage that they’ll be closed for a year or even longer. So, we are reaffirmed in our commitment to improving and expanding these essential places.  

My job is to ensure that as many people as possible can make their own connections with the redwoods, so I spend a lot of time thinking about parks and the folks who visit them. A hard truth is that most of the time visitors don’t reflect the full diversity of California’s population due to a history of exclusion and other inherent barriers. Another fact is that the quality of redwood experiences is directly tied to that of park recreational infrastructure such as parking, bathrooms, picnic and gathering areas, interpretive exhibits, and more. Most of the redwood parks were built long ago to serve a far smaller number of visitors, and they were designed by and for the dominant white culture of the time. 

Together with our parks partners (California State Parks, National Park Service, and many others), the League is looking to change that. We’re creating new redwood park experiences that better meet our 21st century needs, and we’re committed to breaking down obstacles to visitation by engaging communities to develop programs that are relevant to a broader spectrum of Californians.

To help meet these goals, our Redwood Parks Fund prioritizes fire recovery and resilience, expanded access to redwood parks, and delivery of uplifting visitor experiences in the redwoods. The Redwood Parks Fund is a cornerstone of Forever Forest: The Campaign for the Redwoods, supporting the League’s vision to connect all people with the peace and beauty of the redwoods through a network of world-class parks.

We’re not doing things the old way.

First, we are helping parks damaged by the recent wildfires, like Big Basin Redwoods State Park, to get back on their feet and open to the public again. If these parks need to be rebuilt, then we will approach it in a way that engages and meets the needs of California’s growing, diverse population and that makes them more fire resilient moving forward.

2020 wildfire aftermath at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
View of burned trees looking northwest from Eagle Repeater into Big Basin Redwoods State Park. © California State Parks, all rights reserved (2020)

Also in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, at a spectacular spot where the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains meet the sea, the League is renovating the outdated Rancho del Oso ranger station to create a new welcome center, including an outdoor classroom and gathering space. This renovated park area will open up new opportunities to deliver education and outreach programs.

In Redwood National and State Parks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts 1.4 million people each year, we’re creating a southern park gateway on the former Orick Mill site off Highway 101 at the confluence of the Prairie Creek Scenic Corridor and Redwood Creek. It’s the perfect place to provide centralized access to some of the park’s most popular trails and groves.

Redwood trees
Save the Redwoods League is restoring our Orick Mill site to serve as a gateway to the great forests of nearby Redwood National and State Parks.

Near the Sonoma Coast at the League’s Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve, we’re turning this private property that was unknown to the public into the first new old-growth redwood park in a generation. We’re working closely with local stakeholders, including the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians and other underrepresented communities, to ensure that we are modeling a modern, accessible park.

At the League’s Alder Creek property high in the Sierra Nevada, we plan to open an awe-inspiring grove of giant sequoia that has long been unaccessible the public. Following the wildfire that burned at Alder Creek in September, we are focused on recovery and restoration while continuing to plan for trails and other visitor amenities. Communities from Los Angeles up to Bakersfield have been yearning for easy access to the southern section of Giant Sequoia National Monument, and this will be it.

As we know, it’s not enough to build parks — it’s also vital to break down barriers that prevent some communities from enjoying these public lands and powerful redwoods experiences. Our Redwood Connect Grants are designed to foster equitable access to redwood parks, meaningful and community-driven programs, and a deeper understanding of the many attributes and benefits of the redwood forest. The grants support field trips for thousands of youth and young adults from underrepresented communities every year to redwood parks, and these firsthand, immersive experiences help inspire a lifelong connection to nature.

Redwood parks have been central to the League’s mission for more than a century. But our parks work is more than a legacy from the past, it’s a promise to the future.

I encourage you to learn more about our Redwood Parks Fund, and join us in laying the foundation for the next generation of exceptional redwood parks.

About the author

Jessica Carter connects people to the magic of redwoods as the Director of Parks & Public Engagement at Save the Redwoods League. She oversees projects that improve recreational infrastructure and expand visitor capacity in redwood parks as well as outreach and education programs that engage new and diverse audiences to inspire visitation. Prior to joining the team at the League, Jessica was Chief of Business for Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, where she led a complex portfolio of nonprofit, commercial and interagency partnerships that together served over 5 million visitors each year and resulted in substantial park improvements and revenue generation.

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One Response to “A new day for California’s redwood parks”

  1. Yas

    Beautiful video! I’m happy a new park is opening up. Only concern are the skateboards, etc.


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