Big Basin Founders' Day

Celebrating California's first state park and the start of the modern conservation movement this Saturday at Big Basin.

by Samantha Chavez

Sept. 21, 2015–One hundred and thirteen years ago, a legacy began. The Sempervirens Fund, then known as the Sempervirens Club, successfully purchased and set aside an area of old growth redwood forest for the public that would become Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This Saturday, Sept. 26, the state park is celebrating this momentous occasion with a day full of historical hikes, activities for kids, and a charming melodrama.

The day starts early with coffee and crafts for adults and children in the Sempervirens Room where docent Kathy Willott will happily direct guests to a hike or event that suits their desires. Interpreter Susan Blake describes Founders’ Day as a celebration of the park’s natural and cultural history. Natural history hikes vary from the kid friendly Once Upon a Nest (1.5 miles, leisurely pace) to the moderately strenuous McAbee Outlook (6 miles, 3.5 hours). These docent led hikes will leave visitors in awe of the redwood forest and grateful for the foresight the Sempervirens Fund had a hundred years ago. But Big Basin’s cultural history should also be remembered on Founders’ Day. (Scroll down to see list of events.)

Big Basin is a popular camping and hiking spot for many Northern Californians, but few know of its storied history and its significance in the conservation movement. Docent Scott Peden describes the creation of Big Basin as “the start of a movement to have parks with wilderness versus [parks with] a lawn.” The rich history of Big Basin can be explored on the history walks such as the Old-Time Big Basin Resort Walk (1 mile, 1.5 hours) or the Old-Time Redwood Grove Loop Walk (1 mile, 1.5 hours). These walks, hosted by Peden, utilize rare photos taken throughout the park's history, some of which may be the only surviving copies in the world. On these history walks, visitors can compare old photos to their current locations. They'll see how fashion and technology have shifted in 100 years, but they’ll also see how resilient and unchanged the redwoods have remained. There will be more than just hikes for the festivities—it wouldn’t be Founders’ Day without the Timeline Tree and the historical Melodrama.

Both the Timeline Tree and the Melodrama are unique to the Founders’ Day celebration. The Timeline Tree is a 100-foot-long fallen redwood decorated with photos through time. Each foot of the tree holds photos from a particular year in the park’s history. Visitors can amble along the stretch of the tree and see the history of the park in photos. Some photos are mundane tourists’ photos while others are photos of landmarks in the park’s history. The Melodrama is a unique play where visitors walk along a trail with the actors. Throughout the years, Big Basin has been host to an array of characters, and the Melodrama brings them to life. This cast of characters include a pioneers and early conservationists. The Melodrama is never quite the same every year, but it is always a delight to watch. Big Basin has 113 years’ worth of stories to be told. Many of them are about the dedication to conservation that fellow Californians had over a century ago.

Read about the Sempervirens Fund's history and present-day work.

Susan Blake hopes visitors will leave the park with an “appreciation for the story and for the people who have helped create and continue that story.” The struggle to create Big Basin and the hard work that's been put into the park for a century is a testament to the value people place in their state parks. Ultimately, Founders' Day is a celebration for history buffs, nature enthusiasts, and budding conservationists who wish to learn what it takes and what happens when a group of people work together to protect something they love for generations.

Peden would like to remind all visitors this weekend to think about this: “Where do public redwood parks come from? This is the start.”

Interested in volunteering at Big Basin? Training for the next two years begins in Spring 2016. Email Susan Blake for more information:

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, 21600 Hwy 236, Boulder Creek. 9am-5pm. Free, but parking is $10. View a Google map of the Big Basin area.


All Day: Timeline Tree – Photos throughout history decorate a fallen 100-foot-long tree. Located across from Park Headquarters on Redwood Loop Trail.

9am-12pm: Coffee Talk and Crafts – Morning cup of Joe for adults and a craft activity for kids. Helpful docents will direct you to hikes to start your day. Located in Sempervirens Room.

9:30am: Old Time Big Basin Resort Walk – Big Basin was once a grand resort with dance halls and swimming pools. Compare old photos of that era to the exact locations today and see how much has changed! Meet at Park Headquarters.

10:30am: Outlook from Mt. McAbee – A moderate docent-led hike through old-growth redwoods with a lovely ocean view. Meet at Park Headquarters.

11am: Horse Tails – Meet Bellarose the horse and learn how horses shaped the early history of Big Basin. Meet at Park Headquarters.

11:30am: Old-Time Redwood Grove Loop Walk – See photos from a time when the Redwood Grove Loop travelled farther, past old buildings and ancient trees. This refreshing walk is a history lesson and nature walk rolled into one! Meet at Park Headquarters.

1pm: Big Basin Melodrama – A strolling play that takes you into the past. Family friendly, educational, and fun! The walk is wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, half a mile, and 1.5 hours long. Meet at Park Headquarters.

3pm: Once Upon a Nest – This walk takes you through the woods to meet the typical birds of the redwood forest. You’ll also get to listen to the history and lore of the endangered marbled murrelet. Binoculars recommended but not required. Meet at Park Headquarters.

3pm-5pm: Old-Fashioned Children’s Games – Drop by at any time from 3pm to 5pm to play some old-fashioned games for kids of all ages. Meet at the Old Lodge.

6:30pm: Campfire Marshmallow Roasting – Fire lighting and marshmallow roasting start the campfire program tonight. Sticks and marshmallows will be provided.

7pm: Native Stories Campfire – Listen to stories around the campfire about Native California’s history. This program is wheelchair and stroller accessible. Well behaved dogs are welcome!

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