When Gov. Schwarzenegger threatened to close down 48 of California's state parks, including the North Bay's own Armstrong Woods, in order to "help" pull us out of our economic woes, I contacted Ruskin Hartley, executive director of Save the Redwoods League (SRL). The league was founded in 1918 in an attempt to save the coast redwood and the giant sequoia.
Since its inception, SRL has helped to ensure permanent protection for some 180,000 acres of California forestland, which, considering that less than 5 percent of the original number of these trees remain on earth, is a vital service to humanity. Though the imminent threat of park closures has since abated, my investigations into the importance of our redwood trees led me from the SRL to the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (formerly known as Stewards of Slavianka), and ultimately to Armstrong Woods itself.
Hartley speaks to me from his Bay Area office and manages to clearly convey his love for these giant trees, which are the tallest, most massive trees in the world. While I have long taken the redwood for granted, Hartley reminds me that people travel from far off to see these trees, which, as a species, date back to the time of the dinosaurs.
The league boasts a broad base of membership, with supporters from overseas and every state of the union. Such support allows it to preserve our existing forests, acquire new land, work to gather seeds and propagate more trees and award grants in education throughout California. Hartley tells me that people are decreasingly going outside, and believes this is something we need to change. Through the efforts of SRL, children are able to escape the fetters of the classroom and explore the redwoods and giant sequoias on foot.
I, too, feel inspired to escape the classroom, and so I decided to explore Armstrong Woods with the help of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods. Stewards is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving, through education and stewardship, the Russian River state parks. Created in the early 1980s, Stewards offers a variety of education-based programs, as well as renovation and expansion of park facilities. Docents are available for seal watching at Goat Rock State Beach, March through August; January through May, docents facilitate whale watching at Bodega Head; and the first Saturday of the month, there are docent-led hikes through Willow Creek.
Joyce Bacci, volunteer and expert docent, is kind enough to meet my mother and me at Armstrong Woods. Bacci has been donating her time and energy to Stewards since the '80s, and she knows her stuff. She teaches us about the river and coast cleanups, the volunteers who protect the baby seals from dogs and people at the Russian River's mouth, the flora and fauna of the forest, and how the plaque at the beginning of the trail with a rope for the blind has typos in it--in Braille. They've had a few complaints over the years, Bacci says, but it's too expensive to fix.
As we walk through the forest, pausing every few feet to admire the variety of sights--from a 1,300-year-old, 300-foot-high tree to the delicate flower hidden beneath the foliage of a wild ginger plant--I am reminded why a walk in the forest, though easy to push aside in favor of a plethora of other tasks, is so intrinsically satisfying.
At Bacci's urging, my mother and I lie down on our backs in the center of the Burbank Circle, a magical, and so far unexplained, natural phenomenon. I could stay in this spot all day--a ring of redwoods, in the center of which, nothing grows. But Bacci is on a mission to take us to the Redwood Forest Theatre, and so we pull ourselves up and continue on. The theater has been reopened for events, and soon music will echo in the trees with the Third Annual Old Grove Festival, a fundraiser for Stewards that launches in August with live music, good food and even a theater piece.
My mother and I leave the park feeling thankful that, while we go on with our busy lives, at least some of the earth's precious natural resources are being actively protected by people who understand that the natural world is more valuable to our state than the Governator's budget cuts could ever possibly be.
For more information on Save the Redwoods League, or to plant a redwood tree in your name, go to www.savetheredwoods.org.For more information on Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, and to purchase tickets for the Old Grove Festival events, go to www.stewardsofthecoastandredwoods.org.