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Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

A Grove of Redwood Giants

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, draws visitors from all around the world. The park’s 4,650 acres offer impressive 360-degree views of surrounding mountains and Monterey Bay, and a diversity of habitats but its best known for its 40-acre grove of old-growth redwood trees which launched a movement. A visit to this ancient redwood grove, by photographer Andrew P. Hill, more than a century ago helped launch the Sempervirens Club (now, Sempervirens Fund) and the redwood preservation movement.

photo by ars5017.

Unique Habitats and Rare Wildlife

Although old-growth redwoods are the park’s most famous feature, the park contains an amazing diversity of habitats including creekside woods, mixed evergreen forests, and Santa Cruz Sandhills, a unique habitat found only in Santa Cruz County. Only the hardiest plants can survive on this pale, chalky soil; mighty Ponderosa Pines and swathes of native wildflowers rule this habitat.

Henry Cowell Redwoods’ different habitats provide a home to many animals such as coyotes, bobcats, black-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers, Western screech-owls, spot belted kingfishers, and redwood’s infamous banana slugs. The San Lorenzo River, which flows through the park, is home to threatened steelhead trout and a small population of endangered coho salmon.

Redwood Wildlife Banana Slug
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park historic buildings by F.R. Fulmer
Historic buildings by F.R. Fulmer

The Making of a Movement

Long before Spanish occupation, the Sayante tribe, Awaswas speaking people, lived in this area along what is now defined as Zayante Creek. They relied on the forest for food, water, and shelter. They traded steelhead trout and coho salmon with other tribes for resources such as acorns and obsidian.

Starting in the 1840’s, European settlers began to occupy this land. The redwood forest was heavily exploited by early entrepreneurs. French settler Pierre “Don Pedro” Sainsevain built a lumber mill (near the park’s present-day picnic area) and logged much of the park’s trees over time. Warren Welch built a vacation resort, which attracted notable guests including presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison. The area was also the site of the Davis and Jordan Lime Company.

In 1899, photographer Andrew P. Hill was taking photographs near Welch’s Big Tree Grove resort. The owner confronted him and demanded the glass-plate negatives. This angered Hill. After that fateful day, Hill vowed to protect the redwood trees. He founded Sempervirens Club, now Sempervirens Fund, in 1900 to protect local redwood forests like those he saw near Big Tree Grove.

Santa Cruz County took control of the land in 1930 and named it Santa Cruz Big Trees County Park. In 1954, an adjacent parcel of land donated by Samuel “Harry” Cowell was combined with the property to create Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park named for Samuel’s father.

Since then, Sempervirens Fund has continued protecting and stewarding the giant trees including the preservation of three properties in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park area. Here is one of the most recent sections of redwood forest Sempervirens Fund supporters have protected.

Fall Creek

Sempervirens Fund has protected three properties in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park area including more than 40 acres in the Park’s serene, northern Fall Creek Unit near the town of Felton. Once the site of a limestone quarry and kilns through the early 1900’s, nearly the entire Fall Creek watershed is now protected and its hillsides reforested with second growth redwoods. The watershed underlying Fall Creek provides clean drinking water to thousands of Santa Cruz County residents. Named for the creek, the Fall Creek Truck Trail lies on one of the properties Sempervirens Fund added to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. During the CZU Lightning Fire Complex that burned across the Santa Cruz Mountains in August and September of 2020, the Fall Creek Truck Trail served as a critical fire break, preventing the spread of the fire into the town of Felton and Scotts Valley. Sempervirens has worked collaboratively with State Parks and Cal Fire crews on the maintenance of the fire break along the trail over the previous two decades.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Fall Creek by Scott Peden
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park Fall Creek by Scott Peden

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