After nearly two years out of commission, Big Basin Redwoods State Park—the oldest State Park in California—is about to open to the public, once again.

It was closed after being ravaged by the CZU Lightning Complex fire, (97% destroyed), but on July 22, the proverbial doors will be flung open to this magnificent natural sanctuary.

“We’ve been pretty focused on hiring staff and getting the new reservation system up and running so people can visit,” Bonny Hawley, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. “We just launched it just a couple weeks ago.”

While camping still won’t be allowed, much of the access has been restored.

A temporary visitor center has been established, and open trails include the Redwood Loop Trail and the Dool Trail, along with sections of North Escape Road, Middle Ridge Road, Gazos Creek Road, Johansen Road and Chalks Road.

Prospective visitors must make reservations ahead of time, which are available 60 days out on a rolling timeline. And park users will have access to temporary restrooms and handwashing stations.

“I can tell you that people really missed it,” Hawley said, of the park that used to see a million people a year traverse its contours. “We saw, starting during the lockdowns, that park visitation was the highest that anyone could remember.

“Then, when the fire came through, that resource was no longer available.”

rebirth at Big Basin
Signs of rebirth can be seen nearly everywhere you look in Big Basin. (submitted)

In recent months, California State Parks has been going through a public outreach process to source input on what the future vision for Big Basin should look like.

That included three Zoom meetings and an in-person forum in Boulder Creek, for what became known as Reimagining Big Basin.

“I had the honor of serving on the advisory committee,” Hawley said. “I think that people’s love of the park really came through loud and clear.”

Meanwhile, people from all over the world donated to the Friends’ fire recovery fund.

This allowed the group to make cash grants to out-of-work State Parks staff and fund careful trimming of old-growth stands.

“In some cases, they were really close to where people hang out,” she said, pointing to the dangers of fire-weakened limbs. “I think we saved 15 old-growth trees.”

meadow
A verdant meadow at California’s oldest state park. (submitted)

That work was completed with the help of Sempervirens Fund, she added.

Additional groups toiling away to re-launch Big Basin include Conservation Corps., Mountain Parks Foundation and Save the Redwood League, among others.

At first, just 45 reservations (plus four disabled parking spaces) will be available per day, much lower than the hundreds that used to pass through in a single Earth rotation.

“The changes to Big Basin are profound, but the forest is starting to recover, and it’s amazing to witness,” said Chris Spohrer, State Parks’ superintendent for the Santa Cruz District, in a release.

In that announcement, State Parks Director Armando Quintero said the park is opening at a critical environmental moment.

“We welcome all Californians and visitors from around the world as we enter the next era for this iconic and much beloved state park,” he said.

Make your reservation here bit.ly/3Pmq45E.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]