Castle Rock State Park Expands Thanks to Major Purchase from Sempervirens Fund

California State Parks makes its first land acquisition in the Santa Cruz Mountains in more than 20 years, including Robert C. Kirkwood entrance facilities.

By Naomi Friedland

Aug. 22, 2023—A $4.21 million purchase of six properties owned by the Sempervirens Fund will add 222 acres to Castle Rock State Park, located at the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains near Saratoga. This is the first addition to Castle Rock since 2004 and the first California State Parks purchase since 2011. Castle Rock is known for its coastal redwoods and steep canyons that make it not just a popular hiking destination but also one of the most-visited rock climbing spots in the area.

This new addition to Castle Rock State Park spread across six parcels, has been a long time coming. Sempervirens Fund, a non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting coastal redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, acquired the first of the six properties in 1993 with the intention of eventually transferring the property to State Parks. The organization then spent years stewarding and improving the land.

Founded in 1900, Sempervirens Fund is the oldest land trust in California and has been a major player in conserving the unique habitats that make up the Santa Cruz Mountains, including the last of its old-growth coastal redwoods. Sempervirens Fund spearheaded the establishment of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s first State Park, in 1902, and helped establish Castle Rock State Park in 1968.

Private conservation land trust organizations such as Sempervirens Fund help enhance and grow state parks where public entities are limited. They leverage private donations to purchase and steward parcels that can later become public recreational areas. With fewer bureaucratic hurdles, land trusts are able to work more quickly than State Parks, aiding in the expansion and improvement of public lands.

One of the notable new additions to Castle Rock is the 33-acre Robert C. Kirkwood entrance on the east side of the park. Sempervirens Fund spent about a decade transforming this former Christmas tree farm into a proper park facility including a 90-car parking lot with bathrooms, a large kiosk, and accessible trailheads. The small dirt lot that was the former main entrance now serves as an overflow lot and permit parking for campers.

California State Parks leased the Kirkwood entrance after it was completed in 2019. While the Kirkwood entrance has been managed by State Parks, Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz District Superintendent, says that the new purchase is significant because it finalizes the protection of the property in public ownership.

Also of note, the 31-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, which has been closed since the CZU Lightening Complex Fire in 2020, will be realigned to go through the newly purchased Castle Rock West property, one of the parcels included in this historic purchase. While the trail will not be open for a while, hikers and backpackers can look forward to an improved hiking experience and additional campsites.

Sempervirens Fund Executive Director Sara Barth says she hopes that this recent purchase is an indication that California State Parks is receptive to growth going forward, pointing out that private organizations such as Sempervirens Fund are imperative to expanding and enhancing state parks.

“Rarely is a park just created,” Barth said. “This is a great example of how it takes generations of efforts and many years of continual additions by organizations like Sempervirens to make the parks that people enjoy.”

Read more about Castle Rock State Park and Sempervirens Fund

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