A remote, misty forest on the Mendocino County coast, known for its redwood trees that grow in odd shapes like candelabras, opened to the public this week with a memorial to one of California’s most famous coastal champions.
Peter Douglas, who helped write the California Coastal Act and served as the fiery and controversial executive director of the California Coastal Commission for 27 years until just before his death in 2012, will be remembered with the christening of the Peter Douglas Trail.
The newly built, 2.3-mile trail runs through the Shady Dell property, a 957-acre parcel roughly the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park that was purchased for $5.5 million in 2011 by Save the Redwoods League. The property is located about 35 miles north of Fort Bragg, and sits adjacent to the 7,800-acre Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
“This part of the California coast is such a uniquely spectacular part of the American landscape,” said Sam Hodder, president of Save the Redwoods League, based in San Francisco. “And Peter Douglas was such a critical and pivotal part of protecting the California landscape, it really was fitting.”
The new trail will extend farther south to the famous Lost Coast Trail, a favorite of backpackers that begins at the Mattole River in Humboldt County, making its total length 60 miles.
The Lost Coast is the largest roadless coastal area in the Lower 48 states. Highway engineers decided the area along the northern Mendocino and Humboldt County coast was so remote, steep and inaccessible that they turned Highway 1 inland near the town of Rockport, leaving the coastal area cut off and largely unchanged since the time of the California Gold Rush.
Douglas loved the area and took his family on a nearly weeklong backpacking trip in the 1990s over the entire Lost Coast Trail, his son, Dr. Vanja Douglas, said Monday.
“He always said that the coast is never saved, it’s always being saved,” said the younger Douglas, who is a neurologist at UC-San Francisco. “I think that these kind of memorials are really important. They remind people of his legacy and what he tried to do. Coastal protection is never going to go away. The fight will never end. There are always going to be forces of development fighting forces of conservation, and it’s important to have memorials to remind people of that and of his legacy.”
Save the Redwoods League purchased the property from the Usal Redwood Company five years ago, with $3 million from the California Coastal Conservancy and roughly $2 million from donors. The property had been logged from the 1850s until the 1980s. But the candelabra redwoods, which are 500 years old, and whose branches curl up in bizarre shapes, were spared the ax by generations of lumbermen because they didn’t make good boards.
“They don’t have that standard tall, narrow, reaching-for-the-sky look of redwoods. They’re like antlers,” said Hodder.
Hodder said the league hopes to one day sell the land to the state to add to the adjacent state park.
A private dedication event took place Thursday. The trail, which begins on Usal Road and runs through the property to the coast, became open daily and free to the public on Friday.
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.