The Hey Ranger column appears monthly. Today's column was written by Park Ranger Michael Poole.
Hidden in the redwoods is a national tribute to veterans
Del Norte County has a hidden jewel. A national heritage hiding in plain sight, it is a magnificent but forgotten tribute to the men and women who fought and helped win World War II - the National Tribute Grove.
In the waning years of the war, a drive went out to form memorials to its veterans. Small memorials were established all over the country, but one in particular had national significance and it's been here under our noses for the last 64 years.
Located in what is now the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park unit of Redwood National and State Parks, the National Tribute Grove includes 5,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest preserved with a dual purpose: to remember and honor the Americans who came forth when their country called them to fight, and to preserve this redwood grove as part of America's heritage.
The grove was meant to be a memorial like no other. Sequoia Sempervirens, the trees' scientific name, translates roughly as Sequoia ever-green or ever-living. Some of these trees live as long as 2,000 years, longer than most man-made monuments.
No more fitting tribute
The founders of the memorial thought the ancient and scarred trees a most fitting medium to remember the veterans of WWII. Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, a former secretary of the interior, said "Instead of stone or concrete, this monument is made up of living trees, survivors of centuries of combat with storm, drought, fire and flood."
At the start of the war, this section of land was owned by the Del Norte Lumber Company. Save the Redwoods League contracted with the company to buy the land as 10 500-acre parcels and asked Americans to donate to the cause.
In the words of Newton Drury, director of the National Park Service in 1949, the grove was to be known as an ever-living "memorial of eternal gratitude, eternally expressed" to those men and women who served in the armed forces of the United States in World War II and so preserved American freedom.
A national treasure
Why is this grove special? Because America bought into the idea. Proud of their country's contribution to the war effort and of their courageous veterans, donations came in from Americans all across the country. No donation was too small. Donors could give money along with the name of a veteran who fought in the war.
The 5,000 acres purchased with these donations are today almost half of the entire Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The names given with the donations were to be enshrined in a Golden Book. One copy was to be kept in the state and another to be kept in Washington, D.C.
Adopting the grove as a national project, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) took up the goal of purchasing the final 500-acre parcel, raising an impressive $26,430.58 through thousands of 10-cent to 29-cent-per-member donations.
The state of California then matched the DAR donation dollar for dollar to complete the final purchase. On Sept. 25, 1949, a monument was erected on Highway 199 with a dedication ceremony. Located on the only strip of the grove bordering the highway, the monument was placed so that all who traveled the road would see it and remember.
People came from all over the country to attend, including members of the DAR's executive committee and representatives of California State Parks, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.
'Unless we conserve ...'
Mrs. Roscoe C. O'Byrne, the DAR president general, gave a poignant speech highlighting the importance of the trees not only to the veterans, but also to America as a whole.
About conservation, she said, "We recognize that conservation is of vital importance to this country. Unless we conserve, we shall be among the nations that have not. Preservation of this grove is a lesson in conservation to every American. We should apply this lesson not only to our trees, but to our very national life." (Mrs. O'Bryne's words were perceptive: today only 5 percent or approximately 117,000 of the original 2 million acres of ancient coast redwood forest remain.)
She concluded, "In loving memory of the men and women of our country who served in the world war, we dedicate these trees to their courage, to their fidelity and to their sacrifice. May this 'Land where our fathers died' never be despoiled by the enemies of democracy. May these trees stand through the centuries as living symbols of the enduring strength of a free people, a great nation, our own United States of America."
It is a powerful story that the grove was created, but an equally powerful story that its location and meaning have been largely forgotten over time.
Near the current entrance to the park campground, the memorial stone still sits in forest shade about 20 feet off the highway. Hundreds of people drive past it every day, not realizing it is there. There are few left who remember.
Along the noisy highway in a place that is now dangerous to stop, the memorial stone may not be the best place to appreciate the National Tribute Grove.
Instead, drive the Howland Hill Road. Most of the northern side of the road is the grove. A great place to appreciate it is the Boy Scout Tree Trail parking area.
Close your eyes and imagine those fighting WWII. Hear the sounds of the guns and the bombs. In your mind's eye, picture the soldiers. Then, open your eyes and let the quiet take over.
This is why redwoods were chosen for the memorial. Big trees that have survived eons and will stand eons more are now an ever-living peaceful refuge.
On this Veteran's Day, remember our nation's heroes and be thankful these trees are here for them and for you.
Del Norte County will celebrate Monday with a parade from the Veterans Memorial Hall, 810 H St., to Front Street, starting at 10 a.m.
At 6 p.m., a chicken fried steak dinner will be held at the Memorial Hall. Veterans and spouses get in free. Otherwise, admission is $8.50 for adults, $3.50 for children, with tickets sold at the door. Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey will speak at 7 p.m.