Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Latest NewsThe park was severely damaged by wildfire and remains closed. It is unsafe to visit • Learn more about Reimagining Big Basin below.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is the oldest state park in California. It was acquired in 1902. The park had miles of trails — which served hikers and equestrians, linking Big Basin to Castle Rock State Park and the eastern reaches of the Santa Cruz range — and hundreds of campsites.
On August 16, 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire ignited. Two days later, the flames engulfed Big Basin Redwoods State Park, burning over 97 percent of the park and destroying nearly every structure, including the Park Headquarters, campgrounds and housing for park employees. Approximately 18,000 acres burned inside the park boundary.
A year later, Big Basin remains closed, with no water, power, sewer, phone or Internet services available. One of the reasons the park remains closed to visitors is because dead trees create hazards. Falling trees are a major concern throughout the park. California State Parks is engaging stakeholders and the public in an effort to reimagine the future of Big Basin Redwoods State Park following the CZU Lightning Complex Fire that started on August 16, 2020.
Marking the one-year anniversary of when Big Basin Redwoods State Park burned in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks (Friends) and California State Parks have released a short documentary and a series of 3D virtual tours that provide the first, official immersive look at the fire impacts and the recovery process.
The documentary, a collaboration between Friends and California State Parks, incorporates pre-fire images of the park, footage captured during the wildfire and current imagery. It visits multiple park locations, including the main entrance, Blooms Creek Campground, the historic core of the park, Little Basin Campground and China Grade Road.
The 3D virtual tour uses state-of-the-art software and equipment from Matterport to create an immersive visual experience. Through the virtual tour, it’s possible to walk through the Campfire Center, look across the destroyed Blooms Creek bridge or stare up at the burned redwood canopy. The tour visits six locations in the park. Experience the 3D tours.
To support the recovery effort, please consider a gift to the Friends Fire Fund.
The lands known today as Big Basin Redwoods State Park were originally the homelands of the Quiroste and Cotoni tribes, ancestral relatives of today’s Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. By 1800, the Spanish removal of Quiroste and Cotoni people from these beautiful forests into the neighboring missions was effectively complete. This created a sense of “open wilderness” for some incoming settlers to admire and, eventually, strive to conserve.
California Senator Leland Stanford called for making Big Basin a park in 1889. As president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, owner of the land, he had the power to make it happen. The official campaign began at Stanford University on May 1, 1900, led by Santa Cruz County Bank president and former Lt. Governor William T. Jeter. By relying on Stanford botany professor William R. Dudley, secretary of the Sierra Club and Big Basin’s leading expert, Jeter ensured the movement would be data-driven. Journalist Carrie Stevens Walter brought onboard the 200-member San Jose Woman’s Club. Two weeks later, the Santa Cruz Board of Trade led an excursion to Big Basin including Walter and Louise Coffin Jones. The group formed the Sempervirens Club to provide publicity for the movement.
The non-stop bi-partisan legislative campaign of 1901 featured Jeter as the Sempervirens negotiator, Andrew P. Hill as the paid lobbyist and Walter as the corresponding secretary i.e., lead writer. Women—most notably Walter, Jones and Josephine Clifford McCracken—wrote almost all the newspaper and magazine articles illustrated with Hill’s photographs. The Sierra Club, many civic organizations, woman’s networks, academics and Jesuit priests joined with the Sempervirens Club to create a vast statewide lobbying effort. In March of 1901, the California Redwood Park bill became law.
But powerful media owners opposed the asking price for the forest and maligned the Sempervirens Club and the owners of the Big Basin Lumber Company (BBLC). The involvement of Santa Clara College President Father Robert Kenna, in collaboration with the Sacramento Bee, turned the tide. The state signed a final sale agreement in September 1902. The BBLC donated 800 additional acres to bring the park’s total acreage to 3,800.
The California Redwood Park officially opened in June of 1904 with Humphrey Pilkington, an accomplished Santa Cruz landscaper, serving as the first warden. The preservationists’ goal for the forest “to be preserved in a state of nature” boldly appeared on the park entrance gates from the opening until the mid-1920s.
— updated history based on Big Basin Redwood Forest, California’s Oldest State Park by Traci Bliss
Big Basin Redwood Forest, California’s Oldest State Park is a new local history book that shares the epic saga of Big Basin which began in the late 1800s, when the surrounding communities saw their once “inexhaustible” redwood forests vanishing.
Expanding railways demanded timber as they crisscrossed the nation. But the more redwoods that fell to the woodman’s axe, the greater the effects on the local climate. California’s groundbreaking environmental movement attracted individuals from every walk of life. From the adopted son of a robber baron to a bohemian woman winemaker to a Jesuit priest, resilient campaigners produced an unparalleled model of citizen action.
The book, authored by Traci Bliss, is available in the ParkStore Online. Proceeds benefit fire recovery efforts at Big Basin.
In the aftermath of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, through our unique position as co-management partners with State Parks, we established the Friends Fire Fund. People from around the globe responded with incredible generosity to address the devastation of our beloved state parks and those who work in them. Thank you. We are deeply moved and appreciative of all this support.
Nearly a year later, we can share that recovery from this climate disaster has been happening in phases – for both parks and people.
The Fire Fund initially provided direct, immediate assistance for the staff most affected by the fire. Many staff members from Friends and California State Parks were personally impacted by the fire, including people who suffered catastrophic losses such as their homes and personal vehicles. Thanks to gifts from hundreds of individuals, as well as the California State Parks Foundation, Mountain Parks Foundation and Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, we were able to financially support all 29 staff members who experienced monumental losses.
Since the fall of 2020, Friends has been supporting the long-term recovery work for the state parks impacted by this fire. In addition to the extensive and tragic devastation at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, other local state parks sustained damage, including parts of Año Nuevo State Park, Butano State Park, the Fall Creek section of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and the Rancho Del Oso and Little Basin sections of Big Basin.
- Friends contracted with Codifi, Inc. one month after the fire to digitally document the fire losses of 75 buildings and sites at Big Basin, as well as Año Nuevo State Park, including Cascade Ranch and Gazos Creek, totaling more than 25 other historic resources. Thanks to grant support from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, we saved many months of labor and facilitated rapid reports to OSHA, FEMA and State Parks, so on-the-ground recovery work could begin.
- Friends helped save 15 old growth redwood trees in the park. This hazard removal work including taking off whole sections of the upper tree trunks or removing dead limbs or tops that had the potential to fall on areas likely to be occupied by either park staff or visitors. Because these trees posed a hazard to the public, had the pruning not been done, they would have been cut down. This work resulted in creating a safe environment for park visitors and staff and the preservation of these trees; each of them irreplaceable, priceless, and unique. Generous support from the Sempervirens Fund helped make the work by Christianson Tree Experts of Boulder Creek possible.
- One of the roads in Big Basin was not built to withstand the weight of vehicles and heavy equipment currently working in the area. Friends provided the funding to purchase materials necessary to repair the road so park restoration could continue.
- Park supporters are curious to learn about how the park is doing since the fire and what recovery and restoration work is happening. Since in-person park tours aren’t safe at this time, Friends has funded a short film and digital scan of sections of the park providing a virtual Big Basin park tour in collaboration with California State Parks.
Become part of our efforts to support the recovery of Big Basin and these other magnificent state parks. Donate today.