"San Vicente Redwoods, one of the biggest unprotected forests around"2014-09-02 by Kurtis Alexander for the "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/San-Vicente-Redwoods-1-of-the-biggest-unprotected-5727123.php]:
Peninsula Open Space Trust Director, Planning Development Gordon Clark surveys the San Vicente Redwoods area in Davenport. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
For more than a century, the coastal town of Davenport, just up Highway 1 from Santa Cruz, stood in the shadow of a giant cement plant.
Many of the town's 400 or so residents worked in the factory, lived in homes beneath its smokestacks and gazed up at thousands of acres of wooded hillsides that plant operators mined or logged.
But the closing of the plant four years ago - amid a declining economy and environmental concerns - has ushered in a new chapter for the community, and conservation groups marked a major milestone last week in a bid to preserve the picturesque land and open it to the public.
The vast acreage, roughly 6 miles long and 2 miles wide, holds one of the largest unprotected swaths of redwood forest in the region. It's home to mountain lions, peregrine falcons and coho salmon. Environmentalists and local leaders say it's ripe for a trail system linking Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the federally run Coast Dairies bluffs.
"The town of Davenport was there because of the cement plant. Now, we really have the opportunity to pivot and turn a major polluter into a real positive for the community," said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Neal Coonerty, who represents the rugged coastal area north of Santa Cruz.
The preservation effort in Davenport is one of the biggest and priciest the region has seen.
Easement needed -
In 2011, the Peninsula Open Space Trust of Palo Alto partnered with Sempervirens Fund of Los Altos to buy 8,500 acres from plant owner Cemex for $30 million. But because neither group is in a financial position to hold the property and manage it - and California's state park system has been shy about funding new acquisitions - the groups plan to sell the land to a private party.
To make sure the future owner doesn't lay waste to the land, the groups are working with Save the Redwoods League of San Francisco to draw up a conservation easement that would permanently bar development.
Last week, the California Wildlife Conservation Board approved $10 million in public funding to move that easement forward.
"This is one of the most substantial redwood forested properties in the Santa Cruz mountains," said Sam Hodder, president of Save the Redwoods League. "The easement will make sure these lands stay an intact forest, undivided and undeveloped."
The cement plant itself remains in the hands of Cemex. Its future is not known.
Changes feared -
The plant, which opened in 1906, had been a significant employer in the Santa Cruz area, and longtime workers spoke proudly of its history supplying materials for the Golden Gate Bridge, Candlestick Park and the California Aqueduct.
Cemex shuttered it in 2010 because the demand for building materials had fallen considerably during the recession. The company was also struggling to get environmental approval to expand its limestone quarry, and it was reeling from the discovery of cancer-causing chromium 6 in the air around the site.
At that time, fear spread among locals that a developer would swoop in and build luxury homes on the hills once Cemex moved out. Proposals in the past - ultimately doomed by opposition - had called for subdivisions and even a nuclear power plant in the area.
Ready to go hiking -
Now, the plan to protect the Cemex land from development seems to be sitting well with many residents.
Roger Knapp, a real estate agent who lives in Davenport with his wife and 9-year-old son, said he looks forward to bird-watching and hiking on the property, which he can see from his front door.
"It's been privately held and patrolled for a long time, and access has been real limited," he said. "I see this as a real positive."
Knapp's only concern, which is shared by others in the community, is that the redwoods will bring an overwhelming number of visitors to town.
"We're all just hoping Davenport can retain its unique charm," he said. "You can imagine the whole greater Silicon Valley coming to your street, and parking and walking around."
The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County is leading the effort for public access, though it hasn't been determined exactly where visitors might enter the former Cemex property, now called San Vicente Redwoods. And the conservation consortium is still figuring out how crowds will be managed and policed within the sprawling forest.
The jobs lost with the plant closure also remain a concern in town. About 120 mostly union positions vanished, and many residents who didn't move away would like to see another source of employment emerge.
A little work may come with the return of logging on the land. The conservation easement will open up about 45 percent of the property to sustainable timber harvesting as incentive for someone to buy the site, perhaps a timber company, according to the environmental groups.
The terms for logging, though, have not been specified.
Boost through tourism -
Catherine Elliott, project manager with Save the Redwoods League, said she also expects the site to offer an economic boost to Davenport through tourism.
But the most important feature of the project, supporters say, is simply the land itself.
"It's beautiful hiking in these redwoods," said longtime Davenport resident Noel Bock. "How wonderful to have this land opened to the community."
"Group tries to save old-growth redwoods"
2012-11-18 by Peter Fimrite for the "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Group-tries-to-save-old-growth-redwoods-4046872.php]:
The hikers paused amid the cool dampness of the ancient forest to get a better look at a truly remarkable specimen of redwood jutting out of a lush hillside across Peters Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The huge sequoia looked to be at least as large as the Patriarch Tree, a 285-foot giant a short walk away in Portola Redwoods State Park, but none of the walkers could accurately gauge the height of the tree, obscured as it was by the thick canopy.
"That's a big one," said Larry Holmes, admiring the tree's tremendous girth, unusual light-brownish color and the enormous striations in the bark creasing upward along the trunk. The stroll through this 145-acre forest in a canyon south of the San Mateo County town of La Honda was a walk back in time - to a place dominated by 1,000- and 2,000-year-old redwoods - but it is the future of the colossal trees that Holmes is concerned about.
Preserving redwoods -
The 72-year-old Holmes, whose family has for 38 years owned what experts say is the third-largest old-growth redwood grove in the Santa Cruz Mountains, agreed this month to sell it to the San Francisco conservation group Save the Redwoods League. If the $8 million deal goes through, it would forever protect the land and establish a conservation easement on 214 acres of forest at nearby Boulder Creek. In all, 359 acres of some of the last remaining old-growth redwoods along the Peninsula would be preserved.
"The residual amount of old growth in California is 5 percent or less of what it once was, so these trees are precious," Holmes said. "We've always felt they should be part of the park."
The plan for the Peters Creek property is to build trails, work on easements for better public access and, someday when state finances are better, sell the land to the California State Parks. The conservation easement would prohibit subdivisions and timber harvesting around the Holmes family ranch 5 miles away in the Boulder Creek area, which is next to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park.
But the deal is not yet complete and, as always, money is the issue. The redwoods league must raise the $2 million down payment by the end of the year, or the deal is dead. The rest of the purchase price would have to be paid by December 2013.
The effort has the support of the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation and the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which recently donated $1.1 million to the cause. The work is part of what is called the Living Landscape Initiative, a collaboration among five local conservation groups, including the redwoods league and the open space trust, to protect 20,000 acres of redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
It is a minor miracle that any redwoods still exist in what was once an enormous wilderness of giant trees, grizzly bears and shaded creeks teeming with coho salmon and steelhead trout. The fish were an important source of food for the Ohlone Indians and later the Spanish, who named one of the creeks Pescadero, which means "fishing place."
Logging by homesteaders -
Logging began in the 1860s to support an influx of homesteaders who came to the area after the California Gold Rush. They were, by all accounts, a rough bunch, including Danish immigrant Christian Iverson, who claimed to be a former Pony Express rider and built the first cabin amid the redwoods.
Iverson split redwood shakes and shingles for a living and, in the 1880s, served as a bodyguard for the wife of Capt. Harry Love, a California ranger who supposedly captured and beheaded the famous outlaw Joaquin Murrieta. One day Love flew into a jealous rage and opened fire on his wife and her protector, only to be shot to death by Iverson.
In 1889, Iverson sold his property to William Page, who had built the first of two sawmills along Peters Creek, which was named after another early immigrant named Jean Peter, who ran a dairy and grew hay and grain.
Page, who also operated a general store and served on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, used the lumber to make shingles. He later built a logging road that became known as Page Mill Road. The road, which still exists, was used to transport lumber to Palo Alto.
Many of the old-growth trees survived because the lumber in the area was used mainly for shingles, which require straight grain and selective logging.
The Islam Shrine of the Masonic Lodge purchased the land in 1924 and built cabins and camp facilities for members to use as a mountain vacation resort. The regulations at the Shrine Grove prohibited logging. The Shriners sold the property in 1945 after membership dwindled and the state park was created.
Easing public access -
Bill Middleton, a San Francisco car salesman, owned the Peters Creek parcel for a time and built summer cabins in the area. He died in 1962 and the land was sold to the Holmes family in 1974. The Holmeses bought the Boulder Creek parcel in 1977.
The trail along Peters Creek, which includes an unpaved portion of Page Mill Road, leads into Portola state park, which contains many 200-foot-plus old-growth trees and is famous among naturalists for its beauty. As it is now, the public can reach the redwoods inside the park only via a steep and circuitous 11-mile round trip route. The new acquisition is expected to drastically shorten that hike.
Sam Lawson, the director of land protection for the Redwoods League, said he also plans to work with neighboring property owners on trail easements and with the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation to develop a docent program.
"If everything goes to plan," Lawson said, "we will be able to open this up to docent-led tours soon after the first of the year."
Victor Roth, a state parks acquisitions specialist who was on the hike through the Holmes property, said he is confident the land will eventually be part of the park.
"These are thousand-year-old trees bounded on two sides by state parks," Roth said. "It is my job to identify acquisition opportunities, and given the spectacular resources, this is a special opportunity."