Donors from San Mateo County and around the world have raised $543,000 for Big Basin Redwoods State Park to assist recovery efforts following damages from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in August. Sempervirens Fund and Save the Redwoods League, two nonprofits dedicated to protecting redwoods in the Bay Area, collected donations from the public through the Big Basin Recovery Fund. Both organizations then donated the money to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Sempervirens Fund said around 200 of its more than 1200 donations have come from San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. The park has been closed since fire season when most of the park and its facilities were damaged. Cal Fire CZU Unit Chief Ian Larkin announced just this week that the fire was officially under control, meaning it is fully extinguished, and there is no longer any danger of reignition.
Gabriel McKenna, a public superintendent for California State Parks Santa Cruz district, said its working relationship with the two organizations has always existed, but the recent financial donations from the organizations have provided critical help for the park during uncertain times.
“This has really been unprecedented,” McKenna said.
The park will use the first disbursement of $200,000 for mitigation and hazard removal of trees and debris the wildfires destroyed. The recovery donations’ first allocation will also support staffing and equipment costs for removing damaged and fallen trees that pose a hazard to trees, staff and future visitors. Around 97% of the park’s acreage was in the fire perimeter, and most of the trees in the area suffered damage. Large portions of the infrastructure also burned, including the lodge headquarters, trail systems and amphitheater. The remaining funding will be put toward future projects starting in 2021. The state park will wait until after winter to determine what to do with the rest of the money specifically. The park still needs to reassess where the funding could be appropriately used. McKenna did not have a timeline for when the park would reopen but said it would be closed for the foreseeable future. McKenna said the funding has been a huge asset and shows how much the park means to people.
Both Sempervirens Fund and Save the Redwoods League served as a receiver for the donations. Sempervirens Fund Executive Director Sara Barth said the organization gave its support to help rebuild a state park largely destroyed during the summer. She said 100% of the money donated was given to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
“The forest is going to take a very long time before it looks like it once did, and it will probably never look exactly like it once did, and it’s going to feel like a burned forest for quite a while,” Barth said.
After conversations with California State Park officials following the fire, Sempervirens Fund set up funding within days and invited Save the Redwoods League to join in helping. The outpouring of donations and support has been overwhelming. Barth said while many donations were local, people from three different continents donated to help mend a park appreciated throughout the world.
“The fire at Big Basin was covered internationally, so that gives you a sense, even though it’s our redwoods go-to spot, it’s also touched a lot of people beyond this region,” Barth said.
Barth said the park is a compelling and inspiring place for lots of people and is fairly accessible for anybody who wants to come and see redwoods. It is also California’s first state park and a legacy of the park conservation movement across America. Big Basin Redwoods State Park was founded in 1902 and is 18,000 acres. Much of the park and infrastructure that burned was historic and highlighted a legacy stretching back to the early 1900s.
“I think for anyone who pays attention to historical issues, this is viewed as really a flagship, iconic park,” Barth said.
Barth said the rebuild should be appropriate for this century and responsive to the realities of climate change and subsequent wildfires, which are likely to increase in size and frequency in the coming years. She hopes the park will be a model for inclusivity and a place that will be welcoming for all. She wants it to be more ecologically sensitive based on what people have learned about what trees can withstand. Sempervirens Fund will continue to work on giving input on design needs from the public to state parks.
“We will continue to be a voice pushing state parks in that direction, and state parks, I think, is receptive to that,” she said.
People who want more information on how they can donate to the Big Basin Recovery Fund can visit the Sempervirens Fund at sempervirens.org or Save the Redwoods League at savetheredwoods.org for more information.
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