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Castle Rock State Park Legacy

Castle Rock State Park Timeline

Growing a Park and a Legacy

Rising from the peaks of the Santa Cruz mountains, nature’s sculpted sandcastle has drawn people from all around since long before it became the namesake of Castle Rock State Park. The unique “tafoni” sandstone rock formations looming above vistas, waterfalls, and diverse forests have inspired visitors to protect them for nearly 75 years and Sempervirens Fund supporters have been there every step of the way. You and your fellow supporters have created a lasting legacy at Castle Rock State Park. Much like a relay race, each generation has reached back to receive the baton and hand it forward to the next at every major point in the park’s history. Sempervirens Fund supporters have helped to create, expand, and keep Castle Rock State Park open over the decades. From protecting its lands and founding the park in 1968, adding more than 4,000 acres to expand habitat protection and recreational opportunities like building the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail in 1976 to building the modern Robert C. Kirkwood entrance in 2019 to welcome visitors, you have helped us do it all. And we’re not done yet.

We invite you to take a look back at the legacy supporters like you have left at one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s closest State Parks. Join us as we remember every milestone along the journey from the beginning of the park to now, as we look to the next step in completing our shared vision for Castle Rock State Park.

video by Jordan Plotsky

● 1908

photos from Sempervirens Fund's historic archive

The First Piece

Judge James Welch, a member of Sempervirens Fund’s Board of Directors, bought 60 acres of land on Castle Rock Ridge and encouraged people to visit which helped to popularize tourism in the area. One such visitor, Russell Varian, spent much of his youth hiking near Castle Rock and he became so enamored with the area he conducted some of his first measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field there.

● 1959

A black and white photo peers between a bush below and tree branches above toward a steep, brushy slope dotted with trees continuing out to the forested mountains beyond, and area known in Castle Rock State Park as Varian Grove to South Flag, photo by John Gililand

photo by John Gililand

Protecting the Land

Decades later, after pioneering x-ray and radar technology, Russell Varian and his wife Dorothy, both Sempervirens Fund supporters, secured an option to buy 26 acres in what is now Castle Rock State Park but one week later Russell passed away. Dorothy and fellow supporters helped purchase the land in his memory and later donated it and many other parcels to Castle Rock State Park. Read more about Russell Varian and Castle Rock.

● July 1968

A grainy, slighty stained, black and white photo of three hikers with packs—a man, woman, and child wearing a dark, vintage, felt, cowboy style hat—stand on a rock outcropping on a brushy ridge looking out at the forested valley stretching before them beneath fluffy clouds at Castle Rock State Park, from Sempervirens Fund’s archive

photo from Sempervirens Fund's archive

Creating the Park

Following years of advocacy by Sempervirens Fund supporters and partners, Castle Rock was officially designated as a California State Park in July 1969.

In some ways, Castle Rock State Park made Sempervirens Fund what it is today. After its founding to protect the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz mountains from logging and helping to establish California’s first state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Sempervirens Club supporters officially reorganized as Sempervirens Fund in 1968 to refocus efforts on protecting the area now known as Castle Rock State Park and to connect it to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Read more about Castle Rock State Park.

● April 1969-1976

photos from Sempervirens Fund's archive

Building the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

The ambitious Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail to connect Castle Rock State Park over 30-miles to Big Basin Redwoods State Park and down to Waddell Beach and the Pacific Ocean really began when Sempervirens Fund founder Andrew P. Hill bought right-of-way deeds initially intended for a road around 1912—but he may never have guessed how the deeds would bring people to the park nearly 60 years later. In April 1969, 2,500 volunteers from Sempervirens Fund and Santa Cruz Mountains Trails Association helped construct the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail between Castle Rock State Park and Big Basin Redwoods State Park over two days. With the addition of protected lands to make the connection and many generous volunteers and supporters, the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail officially opened in 1976 traveling from the crests of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the crests of waves in the Pacific Ocean through protected wildlands. Read more about the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

● 1979

Mountain Shadws photo by Alexander Lowry, others from Sempervirens Fund's archive

Expanding the Park

Over the years, Sempervirens Supporters continue to protect land for Castle Rock State Park—ultimately protecting more than 36 properties and expanding Castle Rock State Park by 4,000 acres. But a single property protected in 1979 increased Castle Rock State Park by 50%—Mountain Shadow Ranch. Mountain Shadows Ranch's 730 acres in the Saratoga Gap area brought Sempervirens Fund supporters' total land added to Castle Rock at the time up to 1,131 acres. Many of these supporters are still helping to protect and expand Castle Rock State Park more than five decades later.

● 2011

A belayer anchored behind the peak watches his climber repel back down the mottled gray and tan rock face high above the green forested slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains off into the horizon at Castle Rock State Park in late 2010 before the park put on the Governor’s list for closure, by Phillipe S. Cohen

photo by Phillipe S. Cohen

Keeping the Park Open

When Castle Rock State Park was on a list set for closure to State budget constraints, Sempervirens Fund supporters partnered with fellow organizations Portola-Castle Rock Foundation, Save the Redwoods League, and Peninsula Open Space Trust to donate $250,000 to keep the park open for the public.

● 2019

photos by 7Roots Creative, Russell Ferretti-Hoyle, Lauren Chavez, and Orenda Randuch

Creating an Accessible and Sustainable Park

Despite being one of the closest state parks for millions of San Francisco Bay Area residents, Castle Rock State Park’s inclusion on the closure list in 2011 underscored the reality that the park’s handful of dirt parking spaces were neither accessible for many people nor allowing for visitorship to sustain the park. Sempervirens Fund supporters helped purchase a 33-acre Christmas tree farm, restore habitat with black oaks and other native plants, and build a modern park entrance that is both accessible for more visitors and sustainable for both the park model and the environment.The park’s new Robert C. Kirkwood Entrance opened in 2019 and offers safe parking lots, a 60-seat amphitheater, accessible paths, trail connections, new restrooms, bicycle racks, water fountain, picnic area, a native plant garden, and electronic pay stations. Since opening, Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and California State Parks operate the Kirkwood Entrance together and combined with electronic pay stations the entrance is generating revenue helping to make Castle Rock State Park economically sustainable. Visit Castle Rock State Park

● 2023

Gentle dark, green forested slopes of redwoods and Douglas-firs stretch to a peak encrusted with tafoni sandstone rock formations and a thin dark blue mountain ridge peeking above in the distance under a bright blue sky marbled with wispy white clouds from Sempervirens 236, by 7 Roots Creative

photo by 7Roots Creative

The Next Additions

After more than a century of work to protect and connect Castle Rock State Park, your support has brought us to the precipice of another major milestone for Castle Rock State Park. For the first time in 12 years, six properties that you helped protect which were identified by California State Parks as priorities to add to Castle Rock State Park are ready to transfer and officially be added to park:

We’ll keep you posted on this exciting Castle Rock State park development that you, and generations of your fellow supporters, have made possible.

When you protect places like Castle Rock State Park you are protecting access to vistas, waterfalls, and diverse forests—including old-growth redwoods— for the next generation. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to protect and grow Castle Rock State Park for future generations of plants, wildlife, and people to enjoy for decades more to come!

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