Visitors to Stout Grove will notice a wooden viewing platform around its most iconic tree.

Funded through donations and built by California State Park employees, the new wheelchair accessible platform around Stout Tree at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park will allow visitors to get close to the redwood without damaging its bark, its fragile base and its root system, according to a press release from Redwood National and State Parks.

“That’s a very loved trail and over many years people come up to the tree because it’s so immense and touch it,” said Candace Tinkler, the park’s chief of interpretation. “And over the years at the base of the tree the bark has been worn away, the dirt has been trampled and so our resource management folks were concerned about damaging the health of the tree.”

The park’s resource management crew tried putting brush around the base of the tree to discourage people from getting too close, Tinkler said. When that didn’t work they tried fences. But, Tinkler noted, “it’s human nature to love that tree and to love that trail.” Installing a platform was the next step, she said.

Stout Grove was established in 1929 when Clara Stout donated a tract of old-growth forest to the Save the Redwoods League in memory of her husband, lumberman Frank Deming Stout, who died in 1927. It became the first dedicated grove in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, according to Redwood National and State Parks.

Stout Tree is the largest tree in the grove and has endured 90 years of well-intended footsteps, group photos and tree hugs, according to the press release.

Despite reaching lofty heights, the root system of a redwood tree are only three to 10 feet below the surface, according to the press release. Their roots extend out over 100 feet from the base and intertwine with the roots of other redwoods, increasing their stability during strong winds and floods, according to the press release. The roots are also an integral part of the tree’s ability to access water and nutrients. Soil compaction harms the roots while broken bark leaves redwoods vulnerable to insects and disease, according to the press release.

Tinkler said the nearby Grove of Titans is suffering from the same problem as Stout Tree with people getting too close, trampling the dirt and damaging the root system. Redwood National and State Parks and the Redwood Parks Conservancy is working on raising funds for an elevated boardwalk system that would protect the trees as well as a wetland in the area, she said.

Meanwhile, Tinkler said, a visitor to Redwood National and State Parks on Tuesday brought back the original memorial plaque that dedicates Stout Grove.

“That plaque had disappeared during the 1964 Christmas floods when Stout Grove got flooded,” she said. “And according to the gentleman, after the floods they were clearing clogs of redwood and debris at the mouth of the Smith River and one of the guys with a bulldozer found the plaque. It made it to this gentleman and for all this time he had it mounted on his barn.”

Tinkler said the man wanted to remain anonymous.

“We really want to see if there’s a possibility of remounting it after all these years,” she said. “That plaque had been around since 1929.”

Vehicles will be able to access Stout Grove through Sunday. However, Howland Hill Road, which takes people to the grove, will be closed to vehicular traffic Monday through Friday for the parks’ annual road maintenance and improvement. Visitors may enter the area on foot, but should use caution and refrain from blocking the locked gates at either end of Howland Hill Road, according to the parks.

The road is expected to be finished June 16.

For more information about Redwood National and State Parks, visit www.nps.gov/redw.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

20504647