EUREKA, Calif. (AP) - Fans of a popular grove of redwood trees in far Northern California are racing to fund a project that would help protect the area from hordes of visitors.
Park officials and nature lovers are trying to raise $500,000 for a dollar-for-dollar matching grant to help pay for an elevated walkway to the Grove of Titans in Del Norte County, according to a report by the Times-Standard of Eureka. The deadline is Dec. 31.
The grove was largely a secret until the quest to find it became a popular adventure shortly after a 1998 research project inspired a book that contained clues about its location.
Photos of the grove posted online with GPS coordinates around 2011 opened the floodgates to visitors, said Brett Silver, acting sector superintendent with the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
"For a long time, the park's policy was to not tell people where the trees were," he said. "But we found that people kept going out and searching for them."
The grove now sees up to 13,000 cars a month. Because there are no formal trails to the grove, visitors have trampled the forest floor during their searches in the area, jeopardizing the health of the redwood trees and the surrounding forest.
Before the grove saw such high visitation, it had prehistoric qualities, with ferns up to 6 feet high that are now no more than patches of dirt, Silver said.
"You'd almost expect to see a dinosaur pop up around the corner," he said. "Now it looks like a freeway system from LA."
The plan for an elevated walkway would allow for visitation of the grove while protecting the root systems of the redwoods, he said.
The walkway and other improvements are estimated to cost around $3.5 million. Restrooms, trash bins and other visitor services also are planned, as well as restoration to areas damaged by visitors.
If fans of the grove are able to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for the matching grant, that would mean $1 million of the project's cost would be funded, said Jessica Inwood, parks program manager at Save the Redwoods League.
So far, she estimates about $350,000 has been raised.
In addition to the damage to the forest floor, the foot traffic has increased soil erosion and runoff into nearby streams where coho salmon and steelhead trout spawn, Inwood said.
"Everything is connected," she said. "Over time, many people going there and trampling stuff has long-term impacts."
Silver hopes to have the project fully funded by next fall and estimates construction will take about two years. During that time, he said the grove will be closed to public access for safety concerns.
Funds for the grove are being raised at http://www.savetheredwoods.org/titans.