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Optimism sprouting in Santa Cruz Mountains one year after a devastating wildfire

Optimism sprouting in Santa Cruz Mountains one year after a devastating wildfire
Photo Credit: Save the Redwoods League
By Wesley Severson - Published on August 13, 2021.

On August 16, 2020, the lightning-sparked CZU Complex fires devastated nearly all 18,000 acres of Big Basin State Redwood Park in Santa Cruz County. Flames scorched an estimated 97% of the oldest state park in California. After a slow start, and setbacks due to the coronavirus, new life appears to be emerging inside Big Basin even though it will be quite a while before visitors are allowed back in. 

Over 15,000 trees have already been cleared out of the park. Thankfully, most of the prized, ancient redwood trees were able to survive the flames, even though many of them have huge burn scars. "There's enough material living that these trees will survive," Joanne Kerbavaz, a California State Parks senior environmental scientist, told KSBW. The groups Save The Redwoods League and Sempervirens Fund released a YouTube video this week that shows what crews are up against to get the trails restored.

 

This week, state parks launched a new website that will provide the public information on the rebuilding process and how you can get involved and help. ReimaginingBigBasin.org will be the place that people can get updates on the park, watch new videos on the rebuilding and regrowth process, give public input, and get involved. "It's the public land and we want a transparent process here, so we can have public input to guide how we look and map Big Basin into the future," Gabe McKenna, public safety superintendent for State Parks told KSBW.

Wildlife officials who are working on regrowth and rebuilding projects say the park is already springing back to life. “The landscape doesn’t look as wounded as it did. Greenery is everywhere. It’s surprising how much better it looks with the ruined infrastructure gone. It’s peaceful again. You hear birds. It feels and looks better than it did,” Sara Barth with Sempervirens Fund told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Governor Newsom included $186 million dollars in his budget specifically for Big Basin. That was the dollar amount officials estimated was need to rebuild everything inside the park that burnt down like campground facilities, the visitor center, bridges, and other buildings and infrastructure. 

The park is still at such a point of disrepair that officials can’t set a timeline for reopening. “After we get the primary access roads safe, the question is how much effort will it take to make the trails safe? I don’t have an estimate,” Chris Spohrer, superintendent for state parks’ Santa Cruz District told the Sentinel.

Public meetings spotlighting the Big Basin reopening plan should start happening in the next few months. Information on the meetings will be posted at ReimaginingBigBasin.org. Officials estimate that it will take about a year just to finalize the planning process.