The Los Altos-based Sempervirens Fund's campaign to save 153 acres of redwood forests near the entrance of Big Basin State Park has paid off — and quickly.
The property, called the Gateway to Big Basin, is considered a "conservation gem," according to Laura McLendon, director of conservation at the Sempervirens Fund. "Preserving the Gateway is critical for protecting the Boulder Creek watershed and the San Lorenzo River. And it has abundant and healthy stands of redwoods, and multiple groves of Douglas firs, coast live oaks, tan oaks, and madrones throughout the property," she added.
Over only a few weeks, between Jan. 11 and a deadline of Jan. 31, the fund pulled together the $2.86 million it needed to purchase the property located in Boulder Creek and along state Highway 236, according to a Feb. 1 press statement.
At the turn of the 20th century, the property was nearly entirely clear-cut of redwood trees. But a century later, the redwood forest has grown back and has three ridges, creeks, waterfalls and canyons, along with wildlife such as mountain lions and gray foxes. It also contains headwaters for the Boulder Creek watershed and the San Lorenzo River.
Logging wasn't the only challenge the property has faced over the years. In recent memory, it was the site of "a considerable collection of debris and junk," according to the statement. Previous owner Roy Kaylor collected cars and other objects that lined the roads there; in fact, the situation was featured on a 2011 episode of the A&E TV show "Hoarders." He reportedly battled Santa Cruz County over matters related to cleaning up the debris and alleged chemicals leaching onto the property.
In June 2020, Colby Barr, the co-founder of Verve Coffee Roasters, bought the property from Santa Cruz County. Funding from the purchase went toward cleaning up the property, removing cars and improving the condition of the soil. By November 2021, environmental analyses found that the property was considered to be cleaned up.
"I'm thrilled that it will truly be part of the long story of conservation and of California's oldest state park, as well as carrying on the legacy of Sempervirens Fund. Their founders had incredible foresight in the 1900s to preserve this area of land and these redwoods, creating a place for people in San Francisco then, and the world now, to visit and discover," Barr said.
While much of the property was burned in the CZU Lighting Complex fires of 2020, it was burned at a lower intensity than at the nearby Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and most of the Douglas fir trees on the property survived. Those can then be used as a seed bank to help regrow nearby forests, according to the statement.
"The survival of the Douglas firs on the Gateway property will be a gift to regional forests that lost so many firs in the CZU fire, including most of the firs in Big Basin," McLendon said.
The Sempervirens Fund plans to implement forest, watershed and habitat restoration programs at the property, as well as to improve the forest's resilience as it regrows from the CZU fire.
Over the course of the January fundraising campaign, 1,133 donors contributed about $223,500, which was matched by anonymous contributions of $200,000. Other contributions included $500,000 from the Lipman Family Foundation and more than $100,000 from Brian Krawez and Scharf Investments.
"The Gateway to Big Basin is forever preserved and we have the community to thank. We had less than three weeks to raise the funding purchase and permanently preserve the Gateway to Big Basin and the community stepped up and made this happen," said Sara Barth, Sempervirens Fund's executive director.
"For decades this property has been prized for its conservation potential both for its outstanding redwood forests and its proximity to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We are overjoyed to finally have protected these beautiful redwoods," she added.
During the CZU Lightning Complex fire, Big Basin Redwoods State Park lost nearly all of its facilities, infrastructure and trails, and there are ongoing hazardous conditions in the park's interior. Looking towards the future, the California State Parks Department is in the early stages of reimagining the state park, and is looking to collect public input on how to re-establish the park.
The park, established in 1902, was initiated through a wider grassroots effort, involving women, Stanford University and the Santa Cruz community, than has previously been acknowledged, according to Santa Cruz author and historian Traci Bliss in her new book, "Big Basin Redwood Forest: California's Oldest State Park." Read our recent Q&A to learn more about the park's history.
People can go to reimaginingbigbasin.org for opportunities to learn more about the park, complete an online survey, submit a memory of the park to an interactive map or find other upcoming events.
"We have had serious conversations with California State Parks about the importance of the Gateway property for Big Basin's future," Barth added. "Nothing is guaranteed, but we do envision it would both continue to be a dramatic entranceway into Big Basin, and possibly join the park in the future, to expand hiking, camping, and park services."