Welcoming Everyone to Explore the Outdoors
Sempervirens Fund was created to protect redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains for all people to enjoy for generations to come. In 1900, we helped establish California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Big Basin is a globally important protected area, and it was also the catalyst for creating California’s state park system (now made up of 280 state park units and enjoyed by over 75 million people annually). Today, Sempervirens Fund continues to protect land to expand state parks and other public lands, in order to preserve critical habitats so people can experience the wonders and inspiration of healthy, vibrant redwood forests.
Unfortunately, not everyone can stand in the shadow of a towering redwood tree. For some, our state parks and other protected redwood forests are easy to access and feel as safe and welcoming to visit as their own backyard. For many, getting to a redwood forest, much less trekking around the Santa Cruz Mountains, is no more than a dream. And for members of the region’s Indigenous tribes, access to these forests means more than just walking among the trees. It’s about reconnecting with their sacred lands, millennia of knowledge, and deep cultural traditions.
We have worked for 120 years to create public lands that, in theory, can be enjoyed by all members of the public. In practice, however, public lands are not equally accessible to or welcoming for all. That means we have work to do to achieve our vision for a network of protected redwood forests in which the forests are thriving and all visitors feel safe, welcome, and included. Here are some of Sempervirens Fund’s past and ongoing projects to help improve access to nature for all.
From Our Founding to the First State Park: How A.P. Hill Changed History
Sempervirens Fund, the redwood conservation movement, and Big Basin State Park may not be here today if not for Andrew Putnam Hill. Born in 1853, Hill was a painter and photographer whose work inspired him to become a leading environmentalist. He organized groups from Stanford University and Santa Clara University, and mobilized scientists and local activists to join him in the fight against the rampant logging that was rapidly destroying Northern California’s redwood forests. Together they formed Sempervirens Club in 1900, now known as Sempervirens Fund. They raised $250,000—an enormous sum in those days—to secure the land and in 1902, California’s first state park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, opened to the public. Hill helped begin the California State Park system and founded Sempervirens Fund, so we can continue to protect and restore these amazing natural lands in the Santa Cruz Mountains for everyone to enjoy forever.
Field Trips and Scholarships
For years, Sempervirens Fund has invited students on educational field trips for a day of history, science and fun in the redwoods guided by Web of Life Field School naturalists. Our goal was to encourage new experiences and lasting connections between local youth and our local redwoods—the kind of connections that make history. Following the field trip, Sempervirens Fund presented the Tony Look Scholarship, established in the name of one of our Founding Directors, to a graduating senior of Andrew P. Hill High School, who is college-bound and dedicated to the community and the environment. Recently, the Web of Life Field School closed and we are turning our attention to new partners to work with to continue these efforts.
In 2018, we also began to support a program, Kids2Parks, operated California State Parks and Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. Our support has helped ensure that thousands of school children from local Title 1 schools are able to attend field trips at Castle Rock State Park.
Starting in 2017, Sempervirens Fund has sponsored the California State Parks Backpacking Adventures program, which helps create opportunities for local underserved youth to experience their first ever guided backpacking trip into the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Girl Scout Camps
Sempervirens Fund has had an extended partnership with the Girl Scouts of Northern California to manage permanent protection of two forested properties in the Santa Cruz Mountains—Camp Butano Creek and Skylark Ranch—where thousands of girls visit each summer to learn from, and fall in love with, the land. Sempervirens Fund purchased conservation easements on the properties, permanently protecting their majestic redwoods and other important natural resources while also providing the Girl Scouts much-needed income to keep both camps operating, ensuring outdoor learning opportunities for girls and young women from across the Bay Area and beyond.
Sempervirens Fund introduced the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to the Girl Scouts, and tribal members now visit Skylark Ranch each summer to teach the young campers native traditions.
Reconnecting Indigenous Communities with Tribal Lands
Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument
Just north of Santa Cruz, the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument spans 5,800 acres of scenic land in California’s Coast Range and represents a globally-recognized biodiversity hotspot. In addition to being a refuge for many rare plants and animals, the land is also home to four registered ancestral Native American archaeological sites, and many more still may be identified through formal archaeological surveys. The Cotoni (pronounced “Cha-toni”) were the Indigenous Peoples who inhabited the area before European contact. They were part of the greater Awaswas nation whose descendants are members of today’s Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument is the first national monument to be named in honor of the indigenous people of California. Sempervirens Fund led the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument campaign to ensure that President Obama recognized the Cotoni-Coast Dairies for its national significance and bestowed upon it one of the highest levels of federal resource protection.
Amah Mutsun Land Trust
The members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band—descendants of the Mutsun and Awaswas speaking peoples—have lived in the greater Monterey Bay region for centuries. Prior to European contact and “missionization,” the Amah Mutsun lived in close harmony with the land. The Amah Mutsun have not yet received federal recognition, so they are not eligible to hold land in a tribal trust. Without the means to protect sacred sites and lands, each new generation of Amah Mutsun grew further from the popeloutchom: the landscape across which their tribal culture developed and flourished. To protect this landscape’s natural and cultural resources, Sempervirens Fund helped the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band form the Amah Mutsun Land Trust (AMLT) from 2012 to 2016.
With the Amah Mutsun Land Trust in place, they were able to acquire and steward lands integral to the preservation of their tribal culture. Building on this success, Sempervirens Fund facilitated the transfer of a 96-acre conservation easement at the nearby Costanoa Lodge to the Amah Mutsun Land Trust to protect both valuable cultural heritage and wildlands for people, wildlife, and future generations to enjoy.
The Quiroste Valley
Located upstream from the Costanoa Lodge property is the Quiroste Valley (pronounced “Keer-osh-tee”), believed to be the “first contact” village site described by the Portola Expedition. The Amah Mutsun and their Native Stewardship Corps are reintroducing traditional native land-management techniques to care for their easement near Costanoa Lodge and the Quiroste Valley Cultural Preserve (which is State Park Land). Quiroste Valley and these innovative partnerships are featured on NBC Bay Area’s television program, Open Road with Doug McConnell, and in a new film by the Bay Area Open Space Council. Their ground-breaking research at Quiroste Valley is fundamentally changing our understanding about how native people lived and how they managed the land around them. There is evidence, for example, that native people made regular use of controlled burns to stimulate seed production for food and animal forage. The Amah Mutsun are re-learning and passing on spiritual and ecological traditions to young tribal members and also sharing long-lost stewardship practices with other land managers.
Stewardship: Preserving the Past and Improving the Present
In 2016, the Amah Mutsun Land Trust shared their fire ceremony with us and participated in a controlled burn with CalFire to restore the forest’s health and reduce the risk of future catastrophic wildfire in the critical forest habitat on our San Vicente Redwoods property. This burn was special, providing an opportunity for members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to restore a traditional stewardship practice to the land. Members of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust’s Stewardship Corps are studying the native plant regeneration in response to the fire. This is a modern example of native traditions and wisdom being practiced, once-again, in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
In 2017, the Amah Mutsun Land Trust Native Stewardship Corps Program began the multi-year restoration of a meadow of high ecological and ethnobotanical significance on one of our properties, which is now open to the public as part of the new Robert C. Kirkwood Entrance at Castle Rock State Park. The Mawekma Ohlone and Amah Mutsun Tribal Bands also tend a Native Plants Garden to share the importance of local plants and their uses by the indigenous people who lived on the land for centuries.
Improving Access to the Majesty of the Santa Cruz Mountains
Robert C. Kirkwood Entrance at Castle Rock State Park
Castle Rock State Park’s new Robert C. Kirkwood Entrance amenities, including accessible pathways and amphitheater, will make visiting the park a draw for old and new audiences, helping more people connect with the wonders of nature in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Virtual Visits to the Forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains
For those who are unable able to experience the majesty of the Santa Cruz Mountains’ redwood forests in person, a virtual visit with Google Maps is the next best thing to hitting the trail the traditional way. Hardworking hikers, including some Sempervirens staff and volunteers, travel trails with Google Trekker, special equipment to capture 360-degree views, so you can explore the trails virtually.
In 2020, we witnessed extraordinary cultural moments in terms of human health and racial justice. As in many other places, our Santa Cruz Mountains communities are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the death of George Floyd is galvanizing communities across America to advance racial justice. You can read our Statement on Racial Justice here. As we continue protecting and preserving the remaining redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we will also build on our legacy of improving access to nature for all, work to reflect our community in the board and staff representing our organization, and expand our partnerships to create opportunities for rewarding access to nature by all.
We hope you will join us. The best is yet to come.