Big Basin
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
August 25, 2020 ·  3 min read

Big Basin, Home To Majestic Coast Redwoods, Is ‘Gone’

A combination of dry lightning and gusty winds in Central and Northern California sparked extensive wildfires throughout the region that have destroyed more than twelve hundred buildings and burned more than 1.2 million acres (1 875 square miles) of land [1].

The state has seen more than thirteen thousand lightning strikes since mid-August, and more than six hundred wildfires across the state have put nearly nearly 250 thousand people under evacuation orders and claimed the lives of seven others [1].

The fires have caused extensive damage to many of California’s famous state and national parks, including its oldest state park, Big Basin. The Big Basin fire has left a devastating impact on some of the country’s oldest and most majestic trees.

The Big Basin Fire

Big Basin State park is known for its eighty miles of trails that wind through a forest of California Redwood trees, which are between one thousand and two thousand years old. 

According to the California Parks and Recreations Department, the C.Z.U. August Lightning Complex fires caused extensive damage to the park, including the one-story building constructed in 1936 from redwood logs that served as the park’s headquarters and is included in the National Register of Historic Places [2].

The park’s “historic core and campgrounds” has also sustained significant damage, and Big Basin is one of more than two dozen parks that have been partially or fully closed due to the fires.

The Sempervirens Fund, an organization dedicated to protecting California Redwoods, posted a heartbreaking statement to their website regarding the fires:

“We are devastated to report that Big Basin, as we have known it, loved it, and cherished it for generations, is gone. Early reports are that the wildfire has consumed much of the park’s historic facilities. We do not yet know the fate of the park’s grandest old trees.” [3]

Park officials have said that conditions in the park are still too dangerous for anyone to go in and assess the damage, so the actual condition of the trees is as of yet unknown. 

“We feel like we have lost an old friend,” the organization continued. “And we imagine that many of you will feel the same way.  For millions of people, Big Basin is the place where they first experienced the majesty of the redwoods—where they were humbled and inspired standing amidst a grove of towering trees that have stood resolute for thousands of years. Those memories will live on.” [3]

Read: Ireland is Creating the Largest Grove of Redwoods Outside of California

History of Big Basin

Big Basin was acquired by the state of California in 1902, making it the state’s first and oldest park. Humans have lived on the land for at least ten thousand years, and the area was home to the Cotoni and Quiroste tribes [4].

The park’s famous redwoods are native to the United States and only grow along the coast from southern Oregon to Central California. These massive trees have existed in this area for centuries, and are thought to predate the Roman Empire [4,5].

Once the gold rush of the 1880s began, so too did the extensive logging of the majestic trees. In the latter half of the century groups began fighting to protect the trees, whose numbers were diminishing drastically. The Sempervirens club was formed in the year 1900, and two years later the Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established.

Big Basin now comprises more than eighteen thousand acres, and focuses on preserving the forest’s entire ecology [4].

The Fate of the Trees

Sara Barth, the executive director of the Sempervirens Fund, said that the park has seen many visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and people have been coming to the park to find solace and perspective. While the fire would be a tragedy at any point, she said it feels especially cruel during such a difficult year.

Although she has not been able to enter the park to assess the damage, Barth remains optimistic about the fate of the massive ancient trees.

“They’re meant to resist and even thrive in response to wildfires,” she said. “If any place is going to be able to withstand this conflagration it’s Big Basin.” [2]

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