Howard King, 97; Guardian of Redwoods

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Howard King, who helped preserve the towering redwoods of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains for more than four decades, has died. He was 97.

King, who built miles of trails, died June 29 of natural causes at his home in Boulder Creek, about 15 miles northwest of Santa Cruz.

A microwave technician for Hewlett-Packard Co., King made his personal discovery of the ancient trees in 1958 after his doctor told him to treat a back strain by giving up golf for hiking.


“I love Big Basin,” he told The Times in 1981, referring to the state park not far from Boulder Creek. “It’s as simple as that. The park has kept me in good shape physically and mentally, and I would rather be here than anywhere else on Earth.”

A 10-mile trail King plotted and helped build leading to scenic Mt. McAbee in Big Basin is named in his honor. King was believed to be the only civilian permitted by state park officials to designate trail routes. The California State Park Rangers Assn. not only approved his suggestions, but in 1980 also named him an honorary state park ranger for his unpaid work in California’s 30 redwood parks.

Over the years, King crawled through manzanita to route trails, then applied his chainsaw and digging tools to build them. He also photographed the redwoods and handed over his artistic shots to raise money for the Save the Redwoods League and the Sempervirens Fund, which he co-founded in 1968.

King’s photographs of the 300-foot, 2,000-year-old trees adorn postcards, posters and books, including the 1981 “Plants of Big Basin Redwoods State Park,” acquainting even city dwellers with the redwoods he loved. His illustrations have helped raise millions of dollars to purchase and preserve more than 21,000 acres of redwood forests throughout the Bay Area.

After his retirement from Hewlett-Packard in 1971, King devoted his full attention to the forests. When a 1974 snowstorm blew down hundreds of trees in Big Basin, King -- then in his late 60s -- worked 10 hours a day, five days a week for four months clearing the park’s trails.

“I think he would like to be remembered as a superb photographer, an environmentalist and someone who wanted to be of as much use to the world as possible,” Maria, his wife of 19 years, told the San Jose Mercury News last week.

Born in Otisco, N.Y., south of Syracuse, King grew up on a dairy farm and earned an electrical engineering degree from St. Lawrence University in the state’s far north. He worked for General Electric Co. in New York and California before moving to Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto in the 1950s. King is survived by his wife.