California State Parks Acting Sector Superintendent Brett Silver points to the damaged duff layer at the base of a redwood tree in the Grove of Titans. Increased foot traffic has caused the ferns to die and has exposed the roots of the tree. Photo Credit: Max Forster.
In Jebediah Smith Redwoods State Park in northern California stands some of the world’s largest and oldest redwood trees. The majestic Grove of Titans was discovered by researchers in the 1990s and was relatively hidden from the public for several years.
Recently, however, the location of these redwoods has been popularized online and through social media and hundreds of visitors per week have flocked to see these ancient trees. As a result, visitors have created a myriad of social trails in the grove which has damaged vegetation at the base of the trees and compacted the soil. The Grove of Titans currently does not have an official trail and park managers, researchers and conservationists are concerned about the risks of damage to the redwoods if nothing is done to protect the understory environment at the base of these trees.
In a collaborative partnership, California State Parks, the National Park Service, Save the Redwoods League and Redwood Parks Conservancy (RPC) are leading a campaign to save the redwoods and provide public access to this grove.
The Grove of Titans campaign seeks to raise $3.5 million by 2021 to build an elevated walkway and conduct a comprehensive study that assesses the long-term needs of the grove. A portion of the funds will go towards building facilities for visitors such as parking and bathrooms that lessen the impact on the grove. The funds will also support remediation of impacted lands and education for the public to understand how to help preserve these trees.
Joanna Di Tommaso, Development Director for RPC explained that the capital campaign is achieving success because of partnerships.
“Initially, RPC was approached by California State Parks to create a capital campaign for the grove in 2017 and by early 2018 we had raised $50,000. While we were excited about that amount, we quickly realized we would not be able to raise the funds needed for this project on our own,” she said.
This past spring, RPC was also approached by a generous donor who was concerned that people were not donating more to the campaign. The donor agreed to provide a $500,000 match if RPC was able to raise $500,000 by the end of 2018. At that point, RPC turned to Save the Redwoods League for their advice and support.
“Save the Redwoods League has protected California redwoods for the past 100 years,” Joanna explained. “As an organization with a strong fundraising reputation, we knew that by partnering with them to leverage this match from a major donor, the campaign would be more successful overall,” she said.
To date, RPC and Save the Redwoods League have raised $250,000, enough to pay for some of the initial costs during the research and planning phases of the project. Joanna explained that the League has implemented many park projects along the redwood coast and are well-equipped for project planning, fundraising and execution. The League provides expertise in forest science, state and federal regulations, fundraising, public outreach and media communications. The League’s Development team also hosted Joanna at their headquarters in San Francisco to help develop a fundraising plan to ensure that RPC is successful in their end-of-year fundraising goals. To amp up fundraising efforts, the League created direct mailings to send to RPC’s 900+ supporters and paid for printing and postage costs. As a valued partner, they continue to make themselves available to RPC when they have any questions or need advice.
The Grove of Titans Campaign Serves as a Visitor Safety Campaign
Not only will the capital campaign help protect the grove but it plays a major role in visitor safety as well. Without an official designated trail, Joanna explained that many visitors rely on their GPS units and phones to locate the grove and follow whatever path they see in front of them.
“Without an official trail, there is a real risk of people getting lost. Because of foot traffic, there are also more exposed roots from the redwoods which people can trip over and fall,” she said.
“One thing that we strive to communicate with the public is that designated trails are not just there as a convenience. They are thoroughly planned and they take into account visitor safety in addition to protecting the health of the environment,” she said.
At the start of the project, an “adaptive public access study” will be completed, primarily by Save the Redwoods League and California State Parks. This study will document management issues at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, track how visitors are experiencing the park over time and compile options for how park agencies will manage increasing traffic and visitation to the area. Two graduate students from Humboldt State University will perform this study, which will inform future decisions about public access and management along Howland Hill Road, near the grove.
Social trails have overrun The Grove of Titans due to increasing popularity of the site and a lack of official designated trails. Photo Credit: Max Forster.
Educating the Public to Preserve these Redwoods
Standing before a redwood tree is an awe-inspiring experience for many people. At its base, a coastal redwood tree may grow to 22 ft in width and more than 300 ft in height. Many redwoods are more than 600 years old and can reach 2,000 years in the right environment.
California’s North Coast is the only place in the world with a high density of coastal redwoods; a combination of longitude and elevation, as well as cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean provide the ideal setting for these trees. Unfortunately, only 5% of recorded populations of these trees remain today.
According to Joanna with RPC, the role that the public serves in preserving redwoods has never been more important.
“When we think about our redwoods, we talk about them as our elders. They are such a valuable and rare resource with incredible history – it’s up to us to help protect them,” she said.
She also added that until the campaign is funded and there is an elevated walkway, it is critical that people care for the trees by acting as responsible stewards.
“People are so impressed by these redwoods and it’s common for people to climb up the base of the trees to get photos with them. They want to prove they have been there and they want to share that experience with others,” she said.
“Unfortunately, that behavior has a negative impact on the health of the redwoods and we need the public to support our efforts by giving the trees distance and by helping us fund better ways to enjoy and preserve these trees,” she said.
Starting in 2019, this collaborative campaign to save the Grove of Titans will already begin implementation. As RPC and Save the Redwoods League continue to fundraise, they will be able to conduct the adaptive public access study to learn how to best protect the grove. Joanna added that she is excited they are able to begin so quickly and is looking forward to providing the public with project updates.
None of this would be happening at this rate, without partners, she explained.
“The partnership and collaborative aspects to this campaign have been critical in achieving our goals. By working with Save the Redwoods League and combining efforts, we have made incredible strides. As a nonprofit professional, it has reminded me that when you ask for help, your capacity as a partner is limitless,” she said.
To learn more about this campaign and to donate, visit either RPC’s website to contribute to a $25,000 match or Save the Redwood League’s website for the $500,000 match opportunity.
Redwood in the Grove of Titans. Photo Credit: Max Forster.