The Struggle for Redwood National Park

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

The Redwood Highway, Highway 101 north from San Francisco to the Oregon border, represented a substantial engineering achievement when it opened in 1917, negotiating the twisting, slide-prone Eel River Canyon and the steep coastal cliffs south of Crescent City. The road’s most significant accomplishment, however, was opening California’s north coast to mass tourism.

Among the first visitors that summer were three prestigious conservationists. Madison Grant, founder of the New York Zoological Society, Henry Osborn, president of the American Museum of Natural History, and paleontologist John Merriam, later president of the Carnegie Institute. These men drove the new highway north to camp beneath the giant redwoods at Bull Creek in today’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Awed by the giant forest and appalled by sounds of nearby logging, the three men returned home determined to preserve the tall trees.

They recruited other conservationists and civic leaders to their cause, founding Save-the-Redwoods League in 1918. Grant soon brought Stephen Mather, head of the National Park Service, to see the virgin groves. Grant was shocked at how many redwoods had been cut in only two years. Ironically the Redwood Highway allowed timber fallers and logging trucks to reach previously untouched groves.

Despite Mather’s eloquent appeals, Congress failed to protect any redwoods. So the League shifted tactics, convincing prominent citizens to donate money to buy the groves for California state parks. By 1922 they had protected 2200 acres of virgin forests along the Redwood Highway, creating Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Their ongoing efforts saved Dyerville Flats in 1925 and Bull Creek Flats in 1931, expanding the park to 12,000 acres. (It’s 51,500 acres today.) Save-the-Redwoods League continues its efficient work today, having saved 125,000 acres of redwoods. However, efforts to establish a Redwood National Park lay dormant for many years. After a National Geographic Society field team discovered the world’s tallest redwoods on private timber lands along Redwood Creek in 1963, the struggle for a Redwood National Park resumed. Only after five years of bitter debate did Congress finally establish a 58,000-acre Redwood National Park encompassing the giant groves along Redwood Creek and three existing redwood state parks.

Over the next ten years, erosion from logging upstream threatened the Redwood Creek giants. Finally after more acrimonious debate between conservationists and timber corporations, Congress expanded Redwood National Park to 108,000 acres in 1978, protecting the Redwood Creek watershed above Tall Trees Grove.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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