‘An amazing life experience’: Volunteering at Grove of Titans

Sharing the wonder of a recently opened trail to ancient coast redwoods

A smiling person shown from chest up in a redwood forest.
Doug Kerr volunteers as an interpreter at Grove of Titans in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Photo by Doug Kerr

One of John Muir’s famous quotes is “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”  For me, the redwoods are calling, and I must go. I am an active Titaneer volunteer working the Grove of Titans trail in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, part of Redwood National and State Parks. This has been an amazing and exciting life experience for me, and I owe Save the Redwoods League for making it possible.

The Grove of Titans is a sacred and delicate grove of ancient coast redwoods near Crescent City, Calif. The grove has spent millennia in harmony and balance. With its towering redwoods and lush understory of vibrant green ferns and sorrel, the grove has been a safe haven for trees, plants, animals, and the fish of Mill Creek.

Social media and unofficial promotion of the grove’s off-trail location led to a dramatic increase in visitation over the last 20 years. With no official trails or visitor infrastructure, the influx of people threatened the health of the grove. A complex web of unplanned social trails formed over the years. This brought meandering foot traffic directly through the grove, which destroyed understory plants and damaged the trees’ shallow root systems. Hiking through the sensitive ecosystem also pushed eroded soil and litter into the streams, impacting coho and steelhead spawning habitat. Visitors often left waste behind.

Now footprints no longer take precedence over fragile redwood roots or understory vegetation. Now thousands of visitors can gaze at the forest floor and up into the canopy of the grove.

Traveling 300 miles to volunteer

In 2021, I signed up for an October League hike in the Grove of Titans organized by Jackie Perkins, then the League’s donor relations manager. The trail had only been open unofficially a couple of weeks. I was completely blown away by the grove, the Titans, and the trail. It is difficult to find words to describe just how spectacular the grove is. I have heard “awesome,” “beautiful,” “majestic,” and “the best park hike anywhere.” It is one of the most amazing places on our planet.

Whether you believe in divine intervention, things are just meant to happen, or just plain good luck, the hike was led by Erin Gates, then lead interpreter and now California State Parks North Coast Redwoods District deputy superintendent. I asked, “The trail is brand new and in pristine condition. How are you going to keep it that way?” She replied she was forming a group of volunteer interpreters and monitors called Titaneers to give visitors a great experience, note problems with the trail, keep visitors from going off trail, and prevent vandalism. I signed up immediately and became known as Titaneer #1. My becoming a Titaneer is all the more unusual because I live 300 miles south of Crescent City and the grove. The distance is only a minor hurdle.  I enjoy the job, work with congenial and talented coworkers, and provide some social good.

Because I live far from Crescent City, I make a monthly multi-day trip to work the grove. No matter how many times I do this, there is still excitement the day before leaving home as I pack and prepare for the trip. It’s child-like; I’m getting to go once again to a very special place I love.

A day in the grove

When working in the grove, I try to get there early in the day, usually before anyone else is there. This gives me a chance to experience the grove by myself as well as doing a trail inspection noting any issues, picking up any litter, and making sure the trail is ready for an influx of visitors. After the initial hike on the trail, the next step is to answer questions at the trailhead and ask visitors to please stay on the trail.

Usually late morning, especially if I’m working with another of our exceptional Titaneer volunteers, I’ll make another trip on the trail. I get to interact with visitors, share my knowledge of redwoods and the trail, and offer to take photographs of visitors next to one of the Titans. It is a deeply satisfying experience. For many visitors to the redwoods, I know I’ve increased their awareness of the value of redwood trees and the need to protect the remaining groves. On occasion, I’m even asked how a person can help, and I give them a Save the Redwoods League brochure.

After the official opening in May 2022, the Grove of Titans Trail became famous. In the summer of 2022, we often exceeded 500 visitors per day. The trail is built to handle this volume of people without damage to the environment, and the Titaneers ensure everyone has a great experience.

I give very special thanks to the League for recognizing the importance of the Grove of Titans, collaborating with California State ParksTolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation, Redwood Parks Conservancy, and the National Park Service in building the trail, and for the League organizing the 2021 hike that offered me the opportunity to do something I love dearly, being a Titaneer.

Redwood National and State Parks is recruiting volunteers to monitor the trails and interact with park visitors to support the long-term care of the Grove of Titans and nearby trails. Contact JedSmithTitans@gmail.com or Erin.Gates@parks.ca.gov to learn more about the new Titaneers volunteer program and to get involved.

About the author

Doug Kerr is a retired electrical engineer who has hiked the redwoods extensively during his 32 years living in Sonoma County.

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3 Responses to “‘An amazing life experience’: Volunteering at Grove of Titans”

  1. Bob Doyle

    I spent a significant part of my park career in the Bay Area planning and building the Regional Trial System in the East Bay. I was invited on a tour of the Grove of Titans by park staff at its early stage. I had never seen anything like it, the construction and in particular the materials like metal catwalks were unique. I took lots of pictures. What is also worth telling is the story of the partnership with STR and the special relationship with one donor that made all the difference in the world, creating a trial that will last a very long time and protect the grove. When we visited the trail construction areas it was so obvious of the need as hundreds of “social trials” were “all over” so the funding was critical to both protect the grove and provide better public access. Hopefully this great example of a generous donor partnership, restoration and public use will be repeated throughout the state park system. If there are any future public trail work days I would love to know. Bob Doyle, Retired GM East Bay Regional Park District

  2. Lara Hirt

    Happy to serve with you at the Grove of Titans, Doug. The Grove is truly a special place.

  3. Erin Gates

    Great article Doug! We are so grateful to have you as not just a Titaneer, but Titaneer #1!

    Your passion for the redwoods, and our parks, is truly inspiring! Thank you for being such a great steward of your redwood parks! We appreciate you!


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