Forest of Nisene Marks (cont'd)

Bright yellow banana slugs are not an uncommon sight here, which makes sense given their need for moist environments and the density of redwoods, which cover 80 percent of the park. These trees range in age from 80 to 120 years and reach 125 feet in height. There are also a few albino redwoods rumored to exist in the forest, although exact locations are withheld by former park rangers.

Coho salmon and steelhead spawn in the Bridge and Aptos creeks, while cougars, deer and yellow-legged frogs also call the forest home.

Fetid adder’s tongue, coyote brush, purple needlegrass and woolyleaf manzanita are some of the native plant species found in the park.

The history of the forest is as rich as the detritus that nourishes it. The trees that grow there today are the offspring of colossal redwoods that played an instrumental role during the Gold Rush. In 1850, while California’s statehood was still newborn, loggers descended on the steep and challenging canyons of the forest to cut down the more accessible of the giants and turn them into lumber. In 1880, the Southern Pacific Railway financed the purchase of the upper Aptos Canyon and Loma Prieta Lumber Company and Railway. By 1883, Chinese laborers had completed the railroad tracks and giant trees were being rolled away on them at astonishing rates. Logging paused for three years following the 1906 earthquake, which caused landslides in the forest. By 1909, the loggers were back at it, removing 140 million board feet by the time the mill was dismantled and abandoned in 1924.

In 1963, the forest was donated by the children of a prominent Salinas farming family in the name of their mother, Nisene Marks. The deed forbids development in order to allow the forest’s natural regeneration. With each year, evidence of aggressive logging at the turn of the century is receding.

—Maria Grusauskas

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