The National Park Service is trying to preserve the world’s tallest tree by banning hiking. But that approach will never fully work because the location of the 380-foot redwood is an open secret. Instagrammers and the Guinness Book of World Records made sure of that.
Yet the gargantuan tree – a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) which was technically “discovered” by two amateur naturalists in 2006 – is officially off limits to visitors even though it is only a short distance from a main trail. Bushwhack your way into California’s Redwood National Park and you could face six months in jail and a $5,000 fine, the park service announced earlier this month.
A potential danger and an officially confidential place? Adding risk to the equation could make looking at the King of the Redwoods that much more appealing to hikers who have put it on their to-do list.
Restrictions alone are not the answer. The park service should also make a point of educating the public about Hyperion, the tallest tree in the world. at this momentand the great redwood forest – and maybe cross your fingers and hope people really listen.
For example, being declared the world’s tallest tree in a redwood forest is a bit like temporarily winning a chillingly slow race. Hyperion is estimated to be between 600 and 800 years old, while the average age of its coast redwood siblings ranges from at least 800 to 1,500 years old. It’s not even the oldest – it would be a nearby redwood named Gaia that is at least 3,500 years old.
Additionally, the California redwood holding the title of “world’s tallest” has changed several times in my lifetime, in part because new titleholders have emerged as the forest continued to be studied. And the title will inevitably be awarded again.
Coast redwoods reach their maximum height when they are between 300 and 500 years old, so a younger redwood that is still experiencing vertical growth will likely take on Hyperion’s “world’s tallest” crown within seven years. Over their very long lives, trees often lose sections of their crowns to wind and lightning, which could also cost Hyperion his record.
The habitat surrounding Hyperion has been devastated as there are no trails to it. Yet it would be pointless to spend the millions of dollars needed to build a pathway to Hyperion – named after the Greek Titan god of celestial light – when at any moment his reign could be over.
Also, the coast redwoods most important to the ecology of the forest aren’t the tall ones – they’re the trees that were able to grow old enough and large enough to create complex canopy structures by cloning themselves hundreds of feet away. from the ground, creating garden mazes. in the sky.
Unfortunately, humans have significantly damaged most of the world’s forests and there are hardly any virgin forests left. By the 1960s, industrial logging had eliminated 90% of old-growth redwoods. Today, less than 5% of them remain.
When the park was created by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 2, 1968, 58,000 acres of redwood trees were entrusted to the National Park Service. Another 48,000 acres were added in 1978.
As First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson played a crucial role in the establishment of the park, and a grove of redwoods was dedicated to her in 1969. During the ceremony she says, “Conservation is indeed a bipartisan endeavor as we all have the same interest in this beautiful continent.”
This is the point the National Park Service and other conservationists have to repeat over and over again. We all have a stake in protecting nature’s wealth for future generations. This especially applies to redwoods, which grow on the Big Sur coast to the Oregon border and nowhere else.
To preserve the redwoods and keep visitors away from Hyperion, the park service should expand its educational efforts. This could include placing interpretive rangers on the ground who can educate and monitor park visitors.
A permitting process could be put in place to require guides like me to purchase additional permits and adhere to additional restrictions when park visitors want to see areas that could be damaged by human trampling. Permit revenue could be used to fund education efforts and the permit program itself.
The main problem with hiking to Hyperion is that there is no main route to the tree, and most visitors are just guessing how to find it. Instead of banning viewing, the park could allow visitors to go to Hyperion if they were accompanied by a certified and authorized guide.
Populating the park with such guides could also encourage the public to treat this national treasure with more respect. They might also point out the dozens of easily accessible—and significant—coastal redwoods, like an albino redwood tree known as Spirit that’s just steps from the park’s visitor center.
When people ask me to take them to Hyperion, my first response is invariably a long “ughhh”, quickly followed by a detailed explanation of the wonder that surrounds them. I chat with them about the history of the forest and take them on a trail where they can easily see gigantic ancient redwoods and experience the glory of complex canopy life. After that, I never had a visitor who wanted to see Hyperion again. Not one.
Justin Legge is a naturalist and forest therapy guide in Humboldt County based at the Benbow Historic Inn.