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California: Shipwrecks? Pioneers? Free state park tours tell the tales

California: Shipwrecks? Pioneers? Free state park tours tell the tales
Visitors can learn about whalers and shipwrecks at Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park during a historical talk June 28. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Three Central California parks this month will hold free walks and talks to showcase their history as whaling points, pioneer settlements and public lands.

It's a special year for California State Parks. The agency, which oversees more than 150 parks, recreation areas, historic sites, preserves, reserves and wildlife areas, is marking its 150th anniversary in 2014. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln, still mired in the Civil War, signed legislation granting Yosemite Valley and the big redwoods of Mariposa Grove to the state of California to become the first state park. Since then, the state's wealth of public lands has grown with deserts, coastal areas, forests and more.

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The deal: Here's a chance to make a weekend of it to learn about Butano, Pigeon Point and Año Nuevo parklands in the area of Pescadero. Guided talks June 28 and 29 highlight the history of the coastal area. All are free.

At Butano near Pescadero, "Pioneers in the Redwoods" takes visitors through an oak woodland to a forest with evergreens and redwoods. The talk will focus on families who made their homes on the California coast just as state parks were getting their start. ($10 parking)

Info: 9-10:30 a.m. June 28, Butano State Park, (650) 879-2040.

At Pigeon Point in Pescadero, "Shore Whaling and Shipwrecks" offers a historic account of Pigeon Point as a "whaling station, shipping center, Chinese fishing village and dog-hole port" where even Gold Rush prospecters left their mark. Author and historian JoAnn Semones discuses the point's importance in the 1850s and '60s.

Info: 1-2:30 p.m. June 28 at the dining hall of Pigeon Point Light Station Historic Park, (650) 879-2120.

At Año Nuevo State Park, "Changes and Challenges: Our Next 150 Years" takes visitors on an easy coastside walk to hear what the future holds for parks. Staff member Joseph Carr Ritchie provides background (bring your questions) on the past 150 years in the park known for its elephant seal population.

Info: 10-11:30 a.m. June 29 at Franklin Point, Año Nuevo State Park, (650) 879-2025.

"Ghost Towns of Año Nuevo" covers forgotten communities in the present-day park. What was it like in 1864 when the little town of Waddell's Wharf was in this area? And what other vanished communities lived here? ($10 parking)

Info: 2-3:30 p.m. June 29, Año Nuevo State Park.

Details: These events, planned by state parks and the Coastside State Parks Assn., are free, but visitors are encouraged to register before the sessions they plan to attend. Other talks and walks are planned throughout the year; check the state parks' website for more information.

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