The Tale of an Oval Office Redwoods Deal

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove dedication, 1969
The Lady Bird Johnson Grove dedication, 1969

Have you ever wondered what the small redwood grove signs along the Avenue of the Giants and redwood park trails mean?  They mark over 1,000 dedicated redwood groves, from Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park near Crescent City all the way south to Big Sur.  Since 1921, grove donations have helped protect land for redwood parks, and future grove donations will help acquire additional land and support forest restoration in parks.

Some groves honor individuals, like Colonel Reynal C. Bolling and John D. Rockefeller.  Other groves, like the Garden Club of America Grove, honor organizations. Yet others, such as the National Memorial Grove, honor literally millions of individuals.

And there’s a story behind every grove.

Colonel Bolling was the first high-ranking officer killed in combat during World War I.  John D. Rockefeller’s support of Save the Redwoods League helped establish Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  The Garden Club of America stepped up in the height of the depression to save thousands of acres as an addition to Humboldt Redwoods SP, and the National Memorial Grove honors the men and women who served in World War II.

One grove story in particular might be apocryphal, but it could be true, too — and either way it’s a tale well worth telling.

In the 1960s, advocates for Redwood National Park asked President Lyndon Johnson to sign legislation that would establish the park, and the President agreed that this was a good idea, adding that it would mean the world to him if the Park Service would dedicate a grove to the First Lady, who for so many years had championed the environment and the Keep America Beautiful movement.

Reluctantly (and probably sheepishly, as well), park officials explained that unlike California State Parks, the National Parks could not honor individuals during their lifetime.  According to witnesses, the President thought for a moment before responding, “Folks, do you want this park or not?”

Fortunately, we now have both Redwood National Park and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, with a newly-opened trail that connects Lady Bird’s grove to Save the Redwoods’ latest acquisition, a former mill site near the town of Orick.

I love hearing the stories behind memorial groves, and often spend time after redwood hikes asking questions and searching the web, collecting stories.  So, if you have a grove story, please share it in the comments below!

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