California’s oldest state park will stay closed to the public for at least a year following lightning fires in Santa Cruz and San Mateo. Big Basin Redwoods State Park joins more than two dozen parks that have been closed or partially closed by California State Parks.

Firefighters battle the blaze at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Firefighters battle the blaze at Big Basin Redwoods State Park © Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Image

Big Basin Redwoods protects over 18,000 acres of redwood forest and 80 miles of trails, and it welcomes approximately 250,000 visitors per year. It dates back to 1902 and some of its redwood trees are 300 feet tall and 50 feet in circumference. It suffered extensive damage in recent wildfires. As flames ripped through the park they damaged the park’s headquarters, historic core and campgrounds, resulting in the evacuation of campers, visitors and staff. Fortunately, the redwood trees are expected to survive, including the Mother and Father of the Forest trees, which are the largest in the park.

The charred remains of a car at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
The park was extensively damaged by fire © Randy Vazquez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Despite this, it will take a long time for the park to heal. There's still room for potential hazards with burned vegetation and fallen or felled tree trunks. Park officials have decided to take a cautious approach to reopening. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Chris Spohrer, a state parks district superintendent, confirmed that it will be another 12 months before the public can safely visit. 

When the fire first broke out, many feared the worst for the park's beloved redwood trees. According to Sempervirens Fund, California’s oldest land trust dedicated exclusively to protecting the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the redwood trees withstood the blaze thanks to their unique adaptations that make them extraordinarily resistant to fire.

The sign and trees at Big Basin Redwood State Park
Big Basin is famous for its redwood trees © Google Trekker

"Reports are that, despite significant burning to some trees and felled trees, some of the iconic old growth, including the Mother and the Father of the forest trees, is still standing," chief marketing and communications officer, Mark Shatter, tells Lonely Planet. "We know redwoods thrive on fire, but Big Basin is a magical place where millions have stood in the shadows of these ancient giants - many for the first time. Those memories aren't lost, but Big Basin as we knew it will be forever transformed." 

"Their thick bark is quite fire-resistant - several feet thick in old-growth individuals - and contain almost no flammable pitch or resin," he explains. "Redwoods can sprout new growth from the base of the tree, can re-grow new tops when the canopy is damaged, and can survive for centuries even when the entire interior of the tree - the heartwood - has been lost to fire. As long as the cambium layer survives in most of the tree, and the roots are still stabilized, the tree will likely recover very well after a major fire. Fallen trees become 'nurse trees' that foster new growth."

A woman standing between giant trees at Big Basin Redwood State Park
Some of the trees at Big Basin are enormous © Sempervirens Fund

Sempervirens Fund has established a recovery fund for Big Basin and Santa Cruz redwood forests, and further information is available here.

This article was first published on August 28 and updated on September 3, 2020.

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