Old(ish) Growth

Stewards celebrate 75 years of 'Sequoia sempervirens'



Attending a party among a forest of senior residents may not sound like a wild time. But at this celebration you really can take a walk on the wild side as the Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve, the only old growth redwood forest open to the public in Sonoma County, celebrates its 75th birthday. This state preserve comprises 805 acres of magnificent Coast Redwoods, and was originally designated a natural park in the 1870s by its owner, Colonel James B. Armstrong.

The celebration is all the sweeter after Gov. Schwarzenegger’s near hack job on the place in January 2008, when he proposed closure (read: termination) of 48 state parks as a way to help balance California’s budget. Under the spearhead of the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, thousands of petitions, postcards and letters implored the governor to rethink his plan and keep the park open. And unlike so many economic tales these days, this story has a happy ending. Schwarzenegger reversed his proposal, and the state parks remain open for all to enjoy.

On April 18, a slate of birthday events starts off with a redwood ecology seminar, familiarizing participants with this unique ecosystem (registration required). State Parks environmental scientist Brendan O’Neil discusses the coast redwoods from tip to toe, canopy to roots. After a short break, revelers can take part in a ceremony with guests Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carillo, and Gaye and John LeBaron, among others. The LeBarons are descendants of a local, prominent family that, together with Luther Burbank and park founder’s daughter Lizzie Armstrong, successfully campaigned to preserve the grove for public use. Known for their vast knowledge of local history, the LeBarons and park staff will share tales of their experiences among these living giants.

The ceremony is followed by a cultural history walk, led by park docent and local author Doris Dickenson. Dickenson’s new book about the park’s founder offers an insider’s perspective on the creation of the preserve. Space is limited to 20 participants to decrease the impact on the woods, and registration is essential.

A silent auction, free and open to the public, wraps up the day. The reception culminates with Champagne and birthday cake (though candles pose a challenge) and no doubt a familiar song. And the birthday wish? For at least 75 more years.

Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville. April 18, 9:30am until close. For more info, visit www.stewardsofthecoastandredwoods.org.

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