Saturday, October 10, 2015

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park was dedicated in 1968, expanded in 1978 to 131,983 acres, and in 2005 added another 25,000 acres by including the Mill Creek watershed within its boundary.

In 1994, the national park and three adjacent state parks (Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks) were merged for the purpose of cooperative forest management and stabilization of forests and watersheds as a single unit. The new entity became Redwood National and State Parks, with 71,715 acres from the federal park and 60,268 acres of state holdings. Old growth measures at 38,982 acres.

Redwood National and State Parks is located in northernmost coastal California—about 325 miles north of San Francisco. Roughly 50 miles long, the parklands stretch from near the Oregon border in the north to the Redwood Creek watershed southeast of Orick, Calif. Five information centers are located along this north-south corrdior. Park Headquarters is located in Crescent City, Calif. (95531) at 1111 Second Street.

The green below shows the four combined parks with dark green delineating the national park and the light green the three state parks.

Sequoias found in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains are larger in volume than coast redwoods, but they are not taller.  In fact, Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees on Earth. The park also protects vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and 37 miles of pristine coastline, all supporting a rich mosaic of wildlife diversity and cultural traditions. Off-shore seastacks provide nesting for about 40 percent of California's seabirds. Drive to the Klamath River Overlook on Requa Road to view where this wild and scenic river meets the sea.

The tallest known redwood tree is 379 feet tall and is located in the Redwood Creek watershed. A tree dubbed the "Tall Tree" in the Tall Trees Grove once measured nearly 367.8 feet, but logging in the Redwood Creek basin subjected the grove to windier, drier, and hotter conditions causing the Tall Tree's crown to fall off in the 1980s. The tallest tree changes frequently as trees continue to grow and tops break off.  As long as the entire forest is allowed to thrive, these tall trees will survive the seasons and the centuries.  From a seed no bigger than a tomato seed, California's coast redwoods may grow to a height of over 350 feet and have a width of 22 feet at the base. Imagine a 35-story skyscraper in your city and you have an inkling of the trees' ability to impress visitors.

Some redwoods live to 2,000 years, though the average age of the redwood trees is 500 to 700 years. 96 percent of the original old-growth coast redwoods have been logged, and the park contains 45 percent of the remaining protected old-growth redwoods in California.

The trees grow tall for several reasons: 60 to 140 inches of rain fall per per year, mostly from November to April; summer fog reduces evapo-transpiration; the temperate climate has average temperatures between 45 degrees and 61 degrees Fahrenheit; the rich soil in river bottom flats; few natural enemies; burl sprouts (hard, knotty growths that form from dormant seedlings on a living tree) can sprout a new tree when the main trunk is damaged by fire, cutting, or toppling; and wind protection by other redwoods. Also, tannin in the bark makes it resistant to insects such as termites, and the thickness of the bark helps protect the inner core of the tree from fire.

A healthy redwood forest usually includes massive Douglas-firs, western hemlocks, tanoaks, madrones, and other trees. Among the ferns and leafy redwood sorrels, mosses and mushrooms help to regenerate the soils. And of course, the redwoods themselves eventually fall to the floor where they can be returned to the soil. The coast redwood environment recycles naturally, and because the 60-plus inches of annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other, both living and dead, for their vital nutrients. The trees need to decay naturally to fully participate in this cycle, so when logging occurs, the natural recycling is interrupted.

Native American groups still live in the park area today. Archaeological study shows they arrived in the area as far back as 3,000 years ago. An 1852 census determined that the Yurok were the most numerous with 55 villages and an estimated population of 2,500. They used the abundant redwood, which with its linear grain was easily split into planks, as a building material for boats, houses, and small villages. For buildings, the planks would be erected side by side in a narrow trench, with the upper portions bound with leather strapping and held by notches cut into the supporting roof beams. Redwood boards were used to form a shallow sloping roof. The Bald Hills Archeological District exhibits at least 4,500 years of human use and encompasses many sites of prehistoric activities.

The most famous drive-through tree was the Wawona Tree, a giant sequoia in Yosemite National Park, until it fell down in 1969 under a heavy snowfall. There are still three redwood drive-through trees on the coast and all three are private businesses which charge a small fee to drive your car through the tree. From north to south they are the Klamath Tour Thru Tree, the Myers Flat Shrine Tree, and the Leggett Chandelier Tree (shown below.)

Resistance to natural enemies such as insects and fire are built-in features of a coast redwood. Diseases are virtually unknown and insect damage insignificant thanks to the high tannin content of the wood. Thick bark and foliage that rests high above the ground provides protection from all but the hottest fires. The redwoods' unusual ability to regenerate also aids in their survival as a species. They do not rely solely upon sexual reproduction like many other trees must. New sprouts may come directly from a stump or downed tree's root system as a clone. Undoubtedly the most important environmental influence upon the coast redwood is its own biotic community. The complex soils on the forest floor contribute not only to the redwoods' growth, but also to a verdant array of greenery, fungi, and other trees.

During the 1930s, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park was the home of the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1903 which consisted of about 190 young men. It was housed in a temporary camp built in nearby Boyes Prairie, now known as Elk Prairie. The most impressive achievement of the CCC was the construction of the concession and recreation building which is now the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Visitor Center. With the exception of the window lights, plumbing, and chimney flue, the building was constructed of natural materials salvaged from an earlier cleanup of the prairie area. The building is an excellent example of the rustic "back to nature" ethic that dominated National Park Service construction in the 1920s and 1930s. In an attempt to restore the prairie to its natural state, the building was constructed to blend in with the surrounding environment.

Some visitors envision dinosaurs rumbling through these forests in bygone eras. It turns out that this is a perfectly natural thought. Fossil records have shown that relatives of today's coast redwoods thrived in the Jurassic Era 160 million years ago. And while the fantastic creatures of that age have long since disappeared, the redwoods continue to thrive. California's North Coast provides the only such environment in the world. A combination of longitude, climate, and elevation limits the redwoods' range to a few hundred coastal miles. The cool, moist air created by the Pacific Ocean keeps the trees continually damp, even during summer droughts. These conditions have existed for eons, as the redwoods go back 20 million years in their present range.

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