Big Basin Redwoods State Park to reopen July 22 for first time since massive fire

In the latest milestone of its recovery, Big Basin Redwoods State Park — California’s oldest state park, and the home of ancient redwoods trees towering nearly 300 feet tall — will reopen to the public July 22 for the first time since a historic wildfire charred nearly all of its landscape two years ago.

“We expect the public to come prepared,” said Chris Spohrer, superintendent of the Santa Cruz District of state parks. “There are limited facilities. There’s no electricity. There’s no running water. There’s no internet.”

People arriving by car will be required to make a reservation ahead of time to limit overcrowding and the number of vehicles in the still-recovering landscape, state parks officials said Thursday.

A new reservation system has begun taking reservations. Up to 45 vehicles at one time will be allowed in the park’s former headquarters area. People who ride a bus, hike or bicycle to the park will not be required to have a reservation.

Highway 236, which runs from Boulder Creek through the Santa Cruz Mountains park, also will reopen July 22. Reservations are not needed to drive on the road, but motorists will not be allowed to stop and hike into the forest due to safety concerns and lack of facilities.

Reservations can be made at https://thatsmypark.org/parks-and-beaches/big-basin-redwoods-state-park or by calling (831) 338-8867. Most spaces will be available 60 days in advance. A limited number of reservations will be released three days before the visit date, parks officials said. Locator map for Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Parts of the park are expected to reopen to the public, under a reservation system set to be announced May 26.

The parking fee is $6 per vehicle plus a $2 reservation fee.

The fire that devastated Big Basin was the worst in the area’s recorded history. Sparked by multiple lightning strikes on Aug. 16, 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned 86,509 acres, an area nearly three times the size of the city of San Francisco, in rural Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

Flames destroyed 1,490 structures, mostly around the town of Boulder Creek, making it the 12th most destructive fire in state history and a disaster that did more property damage in Santa Cruz County than the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Overall, 97% of Big Basin’s 18,000 acres burned. The fire destroyed campgrounds, the park’s iconic 1930s-era headquarters building, its outdoor amphitheater, museum, gift shops, ranger homes and dozens of wooden bridges.

But the massive trees endured. Although the fire killed thousands of Douglas firs, nearly every one of Big Basin’s famous old-growth redwood trees, dating back 2,000 years, survived, biologists say, although many have burn scars on their trunks or singed branches that will remain for decades.

“It’s been a remarkable recovery,” Spohrer said. “There is significant regrowth in almost all of the redwoods. They have green sprouts. There are Douglas fir trees that have died in the forest that have been removed, and lots of shrubs and flowering plants that are coming back. The landscape is recovering well.”

Not all of Big Basin will reopen July 22. But the famed Redwood Loop trail near the former park headquarters area will, along with 18 miles of fire roads for biking and hiking.

There will be rangers onsite, portable toilets, and an information kiosk with maps and interpretive signs. Meanwhile, a coastal segment of the park that did not burn severely, Rancho Del Oso, located along Highway 1 near the Santa Cruz-San Mateo County border, has been open since last year.

Spohrer said more trails will be opened in the fall, and the number of visitors allowed in will be expanded as crews continue to remove dead trees that still pose safety hazards.

In May, state parks officials unveiled a long-term plan to revitalize the park.

Starting next year, during busy months, visitors will be required to obtain an online reservation to enter the park and to ride a shuttle bus three miles into the heart of the park from a parking area on its eastern boundary near a former Hewlett Packard retreat center called Little Basin.

Similar reservation systems have been put in place in recent years at Yosemite National Park, Muir Woods National Monument and other heavily visited California parks.

The plan calls for many facilities to be moved out of their historic location, where buildings, stores and offices were constructed generations ago on the roots and in the groves of massive redwoods. Instead, the primary park entrance and a new welcome center will be at Saddle Mountain, near Little Basin. Other entrances at Rancho del Oso and upper Highway 236 will remain.

And new campgrounds will be constructed on Lodge Road, inside the park but away from the old-growth groves.

The rebuilding plan, which is expected to play out over five or more years, is called the “Reimagining Big Basin Vision Summary” and is available at reimaginingbigbasin.org.

Before the fire, Big Basin received 1 million visitors a year, serving as a beloved destination for generations of campers, hikers and families. Longtime parks advocates said Thursday they are overjoyed it is opening, even in part.

“In the earliest days, supporters from around the world rallied to support Big Basin,” said Sara Barth, executive director of the Sempervirens Fund, a Los Altos group that helped establish the park in 1902 and continues to raise money protecting redwoods. “As the park reopens, we can create new memories together in California’s oldest state park.”

BOULDER CREEK, CA - MAY 26: State Parks officials lead a media tour of Big Basin Redwoods State Park on Thursday, May 26, 2022, near Boulder Creek, Calif. The park has been closed since the CZU Complex Fire in August of 2020. State Parks officials are planning for limited day use this summer. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
BOULDER CREEK, CA – MAY 26: State Parks officials lead a media tour of Big Basin Redwoods State Park on Thursday, May 26, 2022, near Boulder Creek, Calif. The park has been closed since the CZU Complex Fire in August of 2020. State Parks officials are planning for limited day use this summer. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

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