Two years later, Big Basin Redwoods State Park bounces back from CZU fire
Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park, was destroyed by the CZU Lightning Complex fire two years ago. But now the forest is recovering, and visitors are slowly being let back into the park.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains just to the northwest of the town of Boulder Creek and about a one-hour drive from downtown San Jose.
When you first drive into Big Basin Redwoods State Park the majesty, and the destruction, are both on full display. Towering redwood trees stand as symbols of survival, but at the same time, the ravages of the fire are plainly visible everywhere you look.
"I would describe the level of destruction as catastrophic," said Scott Sipes, the supervising ranger of the park.
Sipes said when the CZU fire rolled through here on August 18th, 2020, nearly every park structure was destroyed and every square acre of the forest was impacted.
"We estimated, at best, that about 98% of the park was consumed by the CZU lightning fire," Sipes said.
But Big Basin Redwoods is coming back in ways well known to mother nature. For example, one process is called "stump sprouting." When the fire tore through the park it cleared out all the underbrush – allowing new redwood tree sprouts to grow. Hundreds of years from now, some could eventually become full-grown redwood trees.
Many other areas of the park now have more sunlight, because the tree canopy has been reduced, so some new varieties of grass and wildlife that do well with more sunlight are now being discovered in the park.
"Any visitors coming that have any preconceived notions should prepare themselves for a much different, and I would go so far as to say, emotional, experience," Sipes said.
Park visitor Guy Lasnier was just heading in from a four-mile hike, and he agrees.
"The re-growth, the re-generation, it is amazing it is magnificent. Is it inspiring in some ways? Yes, it is inspiring. My wife and I were talking that this is 100 year or more process," Lasnier said.
For those who have not been to the park, it is hard to look around and not wonder what these trees, the wildlife, and the natural habitat, went through during the fire.
Some say it is an opportunity to see up-close the natural process of mother nature.
"It is amazing. It looks very different but yet I see similarities. I see growth which is really encouraging," said George St. Clair, a park visitor.
The second track of recovery is what is being done by the state parks' system to put in temporary facilities allowing for a limited number of visitors.
The long-term future of the park, and what kind of infrastructure it may eventually contain is still being studied. But to come this far in two years is yet another milestone on the journey to a full recovery.
"So we are making slow but steady progress, and we are very hopeful to expand our public footprint as time goes on," Sipes said.
As of Wednesday, only 88 cars per day are allowed to visit the park, and you must make advance reservations.
To make a reservation visit the website of the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks at www.thatsmypark.org.