From its trailhead beside U.S. Highway 101, Damnation Creek Trail lures visitors into the instant gratification of old-growth giants, bedecked with wild rhododendrons in late spring. The ambitious can continue on to a 1,000-foot descent to the sea, the redwoods stubbornly giving way to Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and the westward expanse of blue.
Before the plunge, visitors can veer north along the Last Chance Section of the California Coastal Trail, glimpsing traces of the original Redwood Highway that opened the far North Coast to the automobiles of the 1920s. Or they can turn south and cross the highway to begin the DeMartin Section of the Coastal Trail that climbs to a curvaceous stretch of old-growth redwoods as scenic as any to be found.
A few miles north awaits another roadside attraction, the entrance to the Mill Creek Campground, which is surrounded by miles of trails through second-growth redwoods and the still-impressive stumps of their predecessors. Remnants of the mill and timber business that once plied its trade there add an historical twist for visitors.
What do all these places just a few miles south of Crescent City have in common? They’re all within Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, one of 70 state parks proposed for closure.
Forget for a minute that Del Norte’s economy is dependent upon tourism and that the redwoods provide our biggest attraction. Forget that our future economic development is even more dependent on our natural beauty, considering that logging and fishing have proven to be limited industries.
That’s all true, and certainly reason enough to fight a proposal to deny public access to the vast wonderland that is Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.
But there is an even more basic truth to consider. When private and public interests coalesced to preserve a fraction of California’s old-growth redwoods, we became stewards of this land in perpetuity. Closing the park won’t keep people out, but squatters and criminals would replace tourists and hikers. This would be a violation of the commitment we made to future generations when we took on this stewardship role.
If Gov. Jerry Brown, our state representatives and California State Parks abdicate their responsibility, shame on them. The cost savings are miniscule, perhaps even non-existent considering the loss of state revenue that could result from fewer visitors to the redwoods. But if that’s what happens, more reasonable parties must step in to save what generations of people have worked so hard to preserve.
Fortunately, the redwood parks of the North Coast are run under a unique agreement that allows the National Park Service and California State Parks to operate cooperatively. There may be a way for the NPS to step in and maintain something akin to the status quo.
Meanwhile, state legislators who can’t seem to agree on much of anything somehow managed unanimity in passing a bill allowing non-profit organizations to take over operations of some state parks, although it’s unclear just how that would work. There are organizations out there, such as the Save the Redwoods League, that might have the wherewithal to help.
It remains to be seen who our allies may be, but this is one battle we cannot afford to lose.
— The Daily Triplicate