Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a state park of California, United States, located in the westernmost Sierra Nevada mountain range. The park contains two groves (A and B) of giant sequoia trees, each containing more than one mature tree; an additional 250 smaller sequoias are scattered through the surrounding forest.
It is part of the Northern Sierra Nevada Conservancy’s Save Our Sequoias campaign. Located within the boundaries of the city of Arnold, California, the park was established on July 10, 1952, with the acquisition by deed of two parcels of land from the City of Arnold. One parcel contained the north-central portion of the present site, while the other parcel covered the south-east corner. An additional 1,200 acres were later added to bring the total area under protection to 2,400 acres (9.7km2).
There are three main types of mower used in the park, a push type, a ride-on type, and a tractor type. Each type uses propane rather than gasoline, reducing emissions and increasing efficiency.
Visitors can see the remnants of 19th century gold mines along Old Mine Road, which winds past the campground and picnic areas and leads into the heart of the Redwoods. Gold mines operated sporadically from 1848 to 1912, mostly using hydraulic mining techniques. After the mine closed, the area was purchased by PG&E in 1945, and subsequently deeded to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy in 1950. At the time, only 400 acres (1.6km2) of the park were accessible to the public, though future plans call for opening up more area to visitors. Much of the undeveloped land in the park consists of steep slopes covered in dense vegetation, primarily redwood forest. However, due to recent environmental concerns, development proposals for this land will require extensive reforestation efforts.
Several small streams flow across the park grounds, creating numerous waterfalls and rapids, ranging from Class I (“easiest”) to Class IV (“most difficult”). Most of the falls are not dangerous, although swimming beneath certain ones may be unwise. The park features 35 miles (56km) of hiking trails, 12 miles (19km) of horse riding trails, 14 miles (23km) of mountain biking trails, 6 miles (10km) of ski trails, and 4 miles (6.4km) of equestrian trail.
The park has campsites ranging from modern full service facilities to tent camping. No pets are allowed in any campgrounds or on any trails. Horses allowed off-trail must have current Negative Coggins papers. Camping facilities include hot showers, flush toilets, and warm running water.
On May 15, 1954, work began on the park, which was completed in 1955 at a cost of $500,000. In 1957, another 700 acres (3.0km2) of land were added to the park bringing the total area under protection to 3,300 acres (13.4km2), which remains the size of the park today. A second group of giant sequoias, known as the “Wawona Group”, is nearby in Wawona Forest State Park. Together they make up what is believed to be the largest stand of ancient sequoias west of the Rocky Mountains.
There are about 500 giant sequoias in all, including approximately 100 that are over 300 feet (91m) tall. Some of these remain undisturbed since their discovery, others have been felled for lumber or mining operations, but most have been left standing because their removal would damage the landscape. The tallest tree in the park is the Dyerville Giant, also known as the Mother Lode Tree. Standing near the northeast border of the park, it measures 25 metres (82ft) in height and has a girth of more than 36 metres (116ft). Its crown spreads out above the rest of the forest canopy, making it appear like a lone sentinel watching over the valley below.
This giant sequoia once stood in its own private garden, protected from logging interests during several different periods between 1850 and 1920. When the property owner John M. Wooster died without heirs, his daughter Alice sold the 750 acre estate to developers in 1876. Two years later, she married again, this time to a man named William H. Tichenor who owned property in Coloma where he built a home called ‘The Pines’. They remained married until 1903 when Mrs. Tichenor died leaving Mr. Tichenor sole heir to her fortune and the couple divorced.
He continued living at ‘The Pines’ until his death in 1918, after which point his ex-wife remarried to a doctor and moved away. Following the death of her new husband, the family lost touch with the former owners of the property. It was purchased by Pacific Gas & Electric Company in 1945, then deeded to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy in 1950, who set aside 200 acres for public open space, including 160 acres for Calaveras Big Trees State Park. While much of the original forest had been logged, some stands of redwood and Douglas fir still remained among the residual bunch grasses and ferns.
These remnant forests provided a habitat for wildlife such as the pileated woodpecker, northern spotted owlet, black-billed magpie, raccoon, mink, bobcat, coyote, weasel, and porcupine. Because of the threat of fire in the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area, conservationists worked to preserve the remaining old-growth forests around the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Beginning in 1958, volunteers led by Arne Anderson conducted research on potential sites for new parks. Based upon their findings, Calaveras Big Trees State Park was chosen over many other locations considered equally suitable. Surveys showed that only 7% of the privately owned forest in the region was accessible to the public, so the new park was seen as a way to increase public access to natural areas while providing employment for local residents, many of whom had suffered during the long economic downturn following World War II. Work on the park began in earnest in 1960, and was finished four years later, in 1964.
During construction, Calaveras Big Trees State Park became the first park in the nation to switch from gasoline powered lawn mowers to propane powered lawn mowers, saving nearly $1 million per year in fuel costs. Propane mower engines were manufactured by a local company, Stanadyne, and were very popular with consumers, becoming extremely popular throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Wildlife observed at the park includes:
- blue-tailed skunks
- striped skunks
- cottontail rabbits
- gray foxes
- black-tail jackrabbits
- mule deer
Other animals observed at the park include:
- sea lions
- harbor seals
- sea turtles
Birds of prey found in the vicinity of the park include:
- bald eagles
- golden eagles
Over 240 species of plants grow in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, including 65 wildflower species and 20 coniferous tree species.Among the most prominent flowering plant species are:
- redwood sorrel
- white sage
- creek dogwood
- Indian ricegrass
- false Solomon seal
- river birch
- white alder
- big leaf maple
- yellow pond lily
- ponderosa pine
- lodgepole pine
- white fir
- red fir