The redwood legacy of Sam McDonald

Stanford University icon protected hundreds of acres in San Mateo County

Sam McDonald
Sam McDonald purchased redwoods in San Mateo County in 1919, and ensured their protection.

Sam McDonald Park in Loma Mar is one of many access points to the beautiful coast redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. In addition to its coast redwoods, the park boasts a steep topography that affords visitors good looks at many kinds of ferns in the ravines as well as other types of flora and trees . The park also provides access to the old-growth redwoods of Heritage Grove.

What makes this park unique among others in the region is its origin and the role played by its namesake, an African American man from Louisiana who became something of a legend in the Stanford University community.

McDonald came to Stanford University in 1903 to work in the athletic department. He quickly moved up the ranks and became superintendent of athletic grounds and buildings. He saved his money and invested wisely, and in 1919 purchased 430 acres of forest in nearby La Honda. At that time, he was among the few African Americans to ever own property in the redwoods. McDonald spent the rest of his life preserving the property and had a particular love for the redwood trees. He frequently referred to them as “lords of the forest.”

McDonald became a beloved figure everywhere he went. For instance, he’s honored in the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame. He spent much of his later years supporting the work of the Stanford Convalescent Home for Children and left his sanctuary to the organization upon his death. About a year after McDonald’s passing, the Home sold the property to the city of San Mateo, which created the park in his honor.


Sam McDonald’s Sanctuary in the Redwoods
Sam McDonald Park Natural Features
2018 Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees
Video: San Mateo County History 

About the author

Garrison Frost is the League's former Director of Communications.

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