I'd driven through California's Redwood State Park a number of times, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago when I rode through the trees on my bicycle that I truly appreciated them.
Spinning down the Avenue of the Giants and then southward on Highway 101, it was hard to keep my eyes on the road. With no roof overhead or windshield filtering the view, I could just tilt my head back and peer higher and higher into the canopy. Towering on all sides, the trees seemed like something from another age, silent giants oblivious to the cars and trucks rushing underneath them.
Oblivious or not, right now, the redwoods are threatened by the vehicles careening around their trunks. The California transportation agency, CalTrans, has begun planning to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove, a state park just south of the Avenue of the Giants, to accommodate larger commercial trucks. In order to expand the highway, CalTrans would "remove" 54 trees from the park and excavate the shallow roots of 66 additional trees.
The fight over the grove is emerging as a David vs. Goliath struggle to save one of the most treasured natural resources in the country.
With less than 3% of the ancient redwoods still remaining in California, each remaining tree is precious, part of our natural heritage that can never be restored (at least not for the next few thousand years). Logging and agriculture has wiped out nearly all of the 2,000,000 acres of redwood forest that once covered California. Now, highway expansion threatens one of the remaining groves.
"This project will cause major damage to one of our most prized state parks," wrote Gary Hughes of the Environmental Protection Information Center in a press release opposing the project. "For Caltrans to railroad this multimillion-dollar project by grossly understating its impacts is a violation of the public's trust and a wasteful use of taxpayer money."
A coalition of groups in Humboldt County and across the state have come together to help protect the grove. Protests and demonstrations are taking place up in the redwoods. A number of organizations have filed a legal complaint in San Francisco Superior Court challenging the plan. And a petition up on Change.org has garnered over 17,000 signatures of support.
There's no guarantee the activists will win, but in the age of Occupy Wall Street (maybe an #occupyRedwoods is next?) you never know. For my part, I hope to take many more rides through the trees, breathing in the smell of the ancient groves rather than sucking down the fumes of a modern economy that hasn't learned to value what truly matters.