Save the Redwoods League has agreed on a deal to acquire 564 acres of redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, creating a new connection from Big Basin to Año Nuevo State Parks and protecting the headwaters of Cascade Creek.
Cascade Creek will form a protected corridor from the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the ocean, said Save the Redwoods League Senior Manager of Land Protection Catherine Elliott.
“It’s this puzzle piece of private land between the two state parks,” Elliott said. “It’s a property we’ve been interested in for a long time.”
Much of the area around the creek was too steep for logging, and is home to 500-year-old old-growth redwoods. The property has been used primarily as a vacation spot since its current owner Larry Holmes’s parents bought it in 1978, according to a fact sheet shared by Save the Redwoods League. The acquisition is a $9.6 million deal, which the League says represents Holmes offering a $1 million discount over the land’s valuation. It is the second time in the last five years that Holmes has sold property in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the League — in 2014, the League raised $8 million to buy 145 acres of old-growth redwoods at Peters Creek, plus a conservation easement for Boulder Creek Forest, a 214-acre parcel owned by the Holmes family. Holmes discounted that purchase as well, by $600,000, according to the League’s 2013 annual report.
The League has until May 30, 2020 to raise the full amount for Cascade Creek, and said that it had raised $8.6 million so far. The project is one part of a $120 million fundraising campaign, called Forever Forest, that has so far conserved two giant sequoia properties in the Sierra Nevada and the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve in Sonoma County.
The League hopes to turn Cascade Creek over to California State Parks to manage. They join many other conservation-minded property owners who would like to do so — State Parks hasn’t accepted new land, even as a donation, in years. A 2019 analysis by the Bay Area News Group showed that park acquisitions had slowed to the lowest level in decades, with the state adding no parkland in 2017 and 2018 for the first time since at least the 1960s. Although Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2020 budget includes $20 million for State Parks land acquisition, observers think that money is intended for the purchase of the N3 Ranch, a 50,000-acre biodiversity hotspot in the Diablo Range south of Livermore.
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“When they’re ready we’ll have it ready for them,” said Save the Redwoods League Public Relations Manager Kyle Cooper.
Elliott said the League will consider its stewardship options in the meantime, potentially including forest research, public access planning, and working with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band on a cultural survey of the area. Cascade Creek is also the site of redwood research done by Humboldt State University scientists as part of the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. Researchers have already found something interesting, Elliott said: even though there are old-growth trees, some of the second-growth trees are nearly as tall. She said the scientists think that’s because the trees grow in the creek where there’s plenty of water, illustrating the different growth rates of redwoods in wetter and drier climates.