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Heroes of the Redwoods, Part 2 

While we love the Rockefeller Forest trails, our favorite short hike in the park is Hidden Springs Beach Trail near Myers Flat. It passes by what was a Sinkyone Lolahnkok village before the arrival of white settlers in the 1850s.

Photo by Barry Evans

While we love the Rockefeller Forest trails, our favorite short hike in the park is Hidden Springs Beach Trail near Myers Flat. It passes by what was a Sinkyone Lolahnkok village before the arrival of white settlers in the 1850s.

Last week, I discussed how the Save the Redwoods League (SRL), founded in 1918, was instrumental in the creation of Humboldt Redwoods State Park, in effect protecting the trees forever. The outcome was never certain until the league persuaded "Junior," John D. Rockefeller's only son, to write them checks totaling $2 million (about $40 million in today's money). However, other organizations were hugely influential in the preservation fight, in particular the Humboldt County Women's Save-the-Redwoods League (HCWSRL).

After a presentation in Eureka by two of the SRL founders, local women banded together to form the HCWSRL in August 1919. Three months later, it had nearly 1,000 members. That same year, Congress belatedly approved the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. With their newfound power, the women of Humboldt County became serious players in the fight to save the redwoods. It probably didn't hurt that two of their members were married to owners of lumber companies, while another was the wife of the owner of the Humboldt Times.

While the SRL is usually given most of the credit for saving the trees, with passing reference to the HCWSRL, a recent book ("The Women Behind the Trees," June 6, 2019) gives a more balanced view of the battle. Reading Who Saved the Redwoods? The Unsung Heroines of the 1920s Who Fought for Our Redwood Forests by Laura and James Wasserman, I'm persuaded that the SRL couldn't have done the job on its own and it took both organizations working together to win the fight. For instance, the book relates how the president of the HCWSRL, Laura Perrot Mahan, together with her attorney husband James Mahan, alerted Eureka newspapers in November of 1924 to the Pacific Lumber Co.'s secret logging operations in what is now Founders Grove. The resulting furor by citizens of Eureka and Arcata, concerned about the destruction of the ancient trees — not to mention the loss of tourist dollars — prompted the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to threaten PLC with eminent domain of their lands. Although the threat wasn't followed through, logging stopped, and a deal — not the forest — was cut, thanks largely to John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s first donation of $1 million to the SRL.

Led by Laura Mahan, the HCWSRL enlisted the support and financial help of women's groups across the nation. Among these, the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the Garden Club of America stand out. Their donations saved several fine stands of old growth redwood, including Women's Federation Grove (with its iconic "Federation Hearthstone" four-sided Julia Morgan fireplace) and the Garden Club of America Grove.

Saving the trees we enjoy today was a long and convoluted story, involving the SRL, the HCWSRL, and much backroom wheeling and dealing. Not all of it ended with success for conservationists. As the Wassermans write, "... the 'save the redwoods' crusade started with low expectations and fulfilled them." Just 5 percent of California's original 2 million acres of redwoods remain, 17,000 acres of which are now protected within the boundaries of Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

The best of the best — what John Merriam, co-founder of the SRL, proclaimed to be "the finest forest in the whole history of creation" — is 50,000-acre Rockefeller Forest, the world's largest remaining contiguous stand of old growth coastal redwood. If you haven't walked the loop trail there, I encourage you to do so, and at a leisurely pace. Some of the trees have been here for 3,000 years, so there's really no rush. My wife, Louisa, and I usually lie on the soft duff staring up (way up), as the trees put our comparatively short lives in some sort of perspective. Not forgetting, of course, to offer thanks to those few unlikely, sometimes controversial or worse, women and men who, a century ago, saved the redwoods from the saws.

Barry Evans (he/him, [email protected]) has a thing about counting tree rings.

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About The Author

Barry Evans

Barry Evans

Bio:
Barry Evans lives in Old Town Eureka with his girlfriend (and wife) Louisa Rogers, several kayaks and bikes, and a stuffed gorilla named “Nameless.” A recovering civil engineer, he is the author of two McGraw-Hill popular science books and has taught science and history. His Field Notes anthologies are available... more

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