Reserve offers ‘an unparalleled escape into nature’

First limited phase of recreational access offers connection and insight

Two people sit on a blanket in a meadow overlooking a redwood forest
Members of NorCal Conservationists of Color take in the view from a meadow at the League's Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve. Photo by Alanna Smith

Spring and summer 2023 marked the launch of an exciting new step for the League: a phase of limited visitor access to Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve. In 2018, the League acquired this special 730-acre old-growth redwoods property within the ancestral lands of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in Sonoma County, and we plan to open it to the public in the coming years. 

Our first venture into recreational access included a series of twice-monthly staff-guided hikes through the mixed forest of the reserve and its unique trees. In addition, we have welcomed select community partner organizations, including Oakland nonprofit GirlVentures and San Francisco nonprofit Real Options for City Kids, to the reserve for safe and inspiring camping experiences for youth. With these programs, we are seeing our Connect vision come alive: introducing diverse audiences to new redwoods destinations so that they can experience the beauty and inspiration that these landscapes offer.

“Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve offers an unparalleled escape into nature for us Bay Area folks, set by the sense of solitude it provides,” says Natalie Gustin-Toland, outdoor education and recreation director at Real Options for City Kids. “Unlike many spaces in and around San Francisco, where the company of strangers is often inevitable, this reserve promises the rare and serene experience of having a place entirely to oneself. Amidst the towering redwoods, our students can be relieved from the concerns of belonging in outdoor spaces. Here the focus shifts exclusively to fostering a profound connection with nature. For the youth, this type of encounter can become a transformative experience, allowing them to appreciate the outdoors in a truly personal and uninterrupted manner.”

Several people walk on a trail through redwood forest on a sunny day
The GirlVentures crew hikes back to camp after completing a stewardship activity and enjoying a picnic lunch at the League’s Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve. Photo by Alanna Smith

Creating a park 

So, how do you prepare a property for visitor access? What are the steps to creating a new park? These are the questions that first drew me to join the League last year as a member of our Parks Program team. The team has been engaged in active planning for long-term visitor improvements at the reserve for the past several years, and a first phase of access was intentionally contemplated to allow us to learn. Over several months we established safety and operational plans, considered fundamental needs for visitor comfort, and flagged undeveloped trails. We are grateful to be working in close partnership with the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians, who share insight into the deep connection they have to this site as part of their ancestral homeland. On each guided hike, I am treated to the wide-ranging (and sometimes delightfully quirky) knowledge of our visitors, who are passionate about redwoods, botany, geology, history and more. Feedback from visitors in our preliminary phase of access is also helping us to identify the experiences that folks are looking for and how the reserve can meet these interests as well as be sustainably managed. 

There is a moment I particularly enjoy while hiking at the reserve: emerging from the trees and arriving at the edge of a large, sloping, forest-fringed meadow.

“Looks like Austria,” a visitor commented.

I laughed in agreement—the previous week, I had galloped across the grass with my arms spread wide, stopping just short of belting out the tune from The Sound of Music. My only audience was a flock of turkeys.

A place of many wonders

I love that meadow not only because of its peace and beauty, but because it seems to capture the essence of the reserve: this place is not just for viewing impressive old redwood trees. It is also for celebrating a stunning live oak, observing lichen on a sandstone boulder, and marveling at the magic of wild nature. Some of the most interesting parts of the reserve are the fully preserved, complex, interacting natural systems that bring unique diversity to the landscape.

We are still deep in our recreational access planning efforts and hope to invite everyone to connect to this special place in the years ahead. 

Are you interested in experiencing the reserve?
We are offering a small number of staff-led hikes in spring and fall of 2024 on a first come, first served basis.
Please check our project webpage for updates and hike reservations

About the author

Alanna Smith, League parks program associate, is passionate about creating spaces and opportunities for communities to feel connected to the outdoors. 

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