Twenty years ago, Lady Bird Johnson traveled to California’s majestic North Coast to dedicate the 58,000-acre Redwood National Park, the most costly and possibly the most controversial U.S. national park ever created. It was a triumphant victory for conservationists at the threshold of the new environmental age.
In 1978, Congress and the Carter Administration put together a controversial, compromise 48,000-acre addition, which included critical lands in the watershed of Redwood Creek and thus provided protection for the world’s tallest trees.
And now, another decade later? More remains to be accomplished. The Redwood National Park still is not finished. Some of the best redwoods are in the national park. But many also remain in three separate redwood state parks that were supposed to have been integrated with the national park. The local economy still has not realized the tourist business that was to have offset losses by the lumber industry. Some of the watersheds feeding into the national park still are subject to damaging erosion caused by sloppy redwood harvesting outside the park boundaries.
Redwood National Park will not be finished in one stroke, but the effort must continue. The park must not be allowed to languish half-done and still vulnerable to damage by lumbering practices outside the Park Service jurisdiction. The Park Service also needs to develop adequate visitor facilities so that the redwood park will assume its proper role among the so-called crown jewels of the national parks.
The history of the park and its problems of “unfinishedness” are excellently documented in Audubon magazine by John G. Mitchell, who says the park has failed to realize its potential. “Inexplicably, it has the aura of a forgotten park,” he says.
The first order of business is to integrate the Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast and Jedediah Smith state parks into the Redwood National Park. This was supposed to have been accomplished by the 1978 legislation but was not.
Additional protection is needed for the Redwood and Mill creek watersheds to prevent further damage from erosion and siltation resulting primarily from logging operations. There now is talk of creating an adjacent Smith Wild River National Park that would encompass the entire Smith River watershed.
Meanwhile, and not contingent on any further park additions, there is the need for more trails and campgrounds within the Redwood National Park to help give the park visibility and identity. In the Audubon article, Mitchell quotes Bob Berkowitz, a Crescent City radio station owner, as saying the side-by-side status of state and federal parks creates confusion. “So you end up with a national park that has no substance.”
Well, there is substance--the trees, the 40 miles of Pacific coastline, the mist, the rivers. It is a majestic, mystic wonderland. Perhaps the better description would be focus. Or cohesion. The whole of Redwood National Park should be bigger than the sum of its parts. Right now, it has the feel of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. It is time to fit the pieces together.