Big Basin to receive more than $500,000 to help precious redwood forest recover from devastating wildfire

A State Parks ranger walks by fire-damaged redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park was hit by a wildfire in August that burned roughly 97% of the park’s 18,224 acres. Gabe McKenna, a State Parks safety officer and ranger, said, “The initial assessment … showed that a large amount of trees will fall across Highway 236 in the near future if not removed.”
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is getting more than $540,000 to help it recover from a wildfire that tore through the park’s ancient redwood forest last summer, thanks to donations from two long-standing nonprofits.

Sempervirens Fund and Save the Redwoods League, which have supported the park since its founding in 1902, are contributing the money to begin a years-long rebuilding effort at California’s oldest state park.

The first installment, about $200,000, was distributed Wednesday to help remove fallen or damaged trees that could present a hazard to other parts of the charred forest in the upcoming winter storms, according to a news release. The first round of work will affect less than 1% of the park’s trees.

“This initial funding will allow us to access the backcountry, inventory damages, continue hazard mitigation and take the first steps toward recovery,” Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz district superintendent for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, said in a statement.

The CZU Lightning Complex fire roared through Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties in August, killing one person and scorching more than 86,000 acres — including the vast majority of Big Basin’s precious redwoods. A state parks official said in November that roughly 97% of the park’s 18,224 acres burned. Most of the park’s historic buildings — including its headquarters, lodge, nature museum, store, ranger station, campgrounds and park residences — were damaged or destroyed.

“We are all eager to visit Big Basin again, and that begins with clearing the way for a safe park to emerge from the wildfire’s aftermath,” Sara Barth, executive director of Sempervirens Fund, said in a statement.

The park is known for its old-growth redwoods trees, some of them 2,000 years old. The ancient trees, which can measure as much as 50 feet around and can grow hundreds of feet tall, have withstood natural disasters before, and experts say the forest will regrow.

In 1904 a devastating fire burned through the park, which newspapers at the time predicted was “doomed.” But the trees survived and continued to grow.

Despite the August fire, Big Basin’s trees already were showing signs of life this fall.

“We are encouraged by the resilience that the redwood forest in Big Basin is already showing,” Sam Hodder, president and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, said in a statement.

Matthew Shaffer, chief marketing and communications officer at Sempervirens Fund, said there is “no definitive timeline” for the disbursement of remaining funds, but that it is available to the state and district when they need it.


A Sempervirens staff member visited the park in late November and saw at least one tree still smoking out the top, “almost like a little chimney,” Shaffer said.

“It’s going to be a great park to visit again,” he said. “But it’s going to be different.”

The fire that roared through mountains north of Santa Cruz prompted more than 22,000 people to evacuate the area, including many campers at Big Basin. The park, almost 20 miles north of Santa Cruz, is a popular summer destination.