A historic California redwood park will soon welcome visitors, two years after devastating fire

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park-Nov. 5, 2020-The Big Basin Redwoods State Park was hit by a wildfire in August that burned roughly 97% of the park's 18,224 acres. Gabe McKenna, a State Parks' safety officer and ranger, said that "The initial assessment…showed that a large amount of trees will fall across Highway 236 in the near future if not removed." The fire was sparked by lightening. The park contains 4,400 acre of old growth redwood forest and 11,3000 acres of secondary growth. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A wildfire burned roughly 97% of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in August 2020. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly two years after a massive wildfire tore through Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, parts of the park are set to reopen this summer, allowing visitors the opportunity to return to its ancient coast redwood forests.

About 97% of California’s oldest state park was burned in August 2020 when the CZU Lightning Complex fire tore through Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

The fire burned for more than a month, covering 86,000 acres and killing one person. It also damaged or destroyed nearly all of the park’s buildings, campgrounds and trail networks and burned nearly all its old-growth redwood forest. But those forests are recovering.

“Almost every large old growth redwood tree is showing regrowth, with green needles sprouting from blackened trunks and branches,” officials said in a news release.

The return of full access to the park is expected to take several years. But Santa Cruz District Superintendent Chris Spohrer said the park will be open for limited days this summer, starting after the Fourth of July.

The exact reopening date will be made public in June along with a link to the park's new online reservation system, Spohrer said. Reservations will be required for all parking.

Visitors will also be able to take a Metro bus from Santa Cruz on the weekends, which will not require a reservation.

About 18 miles of fire roads will open to the public for hiking and biking, along with two loop trails that will be accessible from the park's headquarters area.

The news of the reopening comes as state parks officials announced the release of the Reimagining Big Basin Vision Summary, which outlines plans to rebuild the 18,000-acre park with an eye toward prioritizing the health of the forest while allowing visitors continued access.

“While the CZU Lightning Complex fire’s impacts to the park were tragic, the forest is incredibly resilient and regrowing,” California State Parks Director Armando Quintero said in a statement. “This is our time, as stewards of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, to increase the resiliency of the forest and equity of access to all Californians, and honor the deep history that makes this park so iconic.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.