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Oregon Outdoors: Trail to the Titans

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HIOUCHI, Calif. — For the past decade, big-tree hunters searching for the massive Pacific redwood trees in what became known as the Grove of Titans got a standard answer from state and federal parks officials looking to protect the ancient and sensitive rainforest monoliths: Eyes closed, fingers firmly inserted in ears, and a litany of “la-la-la-las” in hopes that the fragile grove would be spared another tree-lover scaling the bark for a photo.

“That was part of our plan in the beginning, not to tell people where they were located,” says Brett Silver, deputy district superintendent for the North Coast Redwoods District of the California State Parks Department.

But GPS coordinates blasted on the Internet changed everything eight years ago, and now the agencies have done an about-face.

With the help of redwood lovers around the nation, a public-private venture is in the midst of a $3.5 million construction project to put the Grove of Titans on the map and make visitation safer for big-tree lovers and the redwoods themselves.

The Redwood National and State Parks have begun rehabilitating the 3-mile Mill Creek Trail, which leads to the grove, and will build a 1,300-foot elevated trail in the grove itself.

That way, sensitive shallow redwood roots won’t get trampled, visitors won’t trip over wet roots and, hopefully, people will enjoy these 2,000-year-old trees without loving them to death.

“We want to keep people away from the trees and protect them for generations to come,” Silver says. While the trees date well back in time, their public life didn’t begin until May 11, 1998, when botanist Stephen Sillett and big-tree hunter Michael Taylor stumbled upon the grove while studying redwoods.

Though right off the Mill Creek Trail in the park just south of Highway 199 in Northern California, they had existed undetected with no trails into them.

The grove is home to three of the 10 largest coastal redwoods by volume, including Lost Monarch, which is the largest multi-stem coastal redwood ever found — 321 feet tall and 26 feet wide, with a wood volume of 42,500 cubic feet — enough wood to build 40 2,000-square-foot houses.

Redwoods ALL

Not only are the trees mammoth, they’re uniquely clustered in this relatively small grove.

“This is one of the most dense collections of giant redwoods they’ve ever measured,” says Joanna Di Tommaso, executive director of the Redwood Parks Conservancy.

The grove, near the northernmost range of coastal redwoods, are dependent upon the coastal fog belt, and they take advantage of this area, which gets the heaviest annual rainfall of anywhere in California.

Also, coastal soil-type shifts near the Oregon/California border start to allow other conifers to out-compete these slow-growing leviathans that now cover just 5 percent of their natural range, with Jedediah Smith State Park a rare stronghold.

“These trees are just incredibly adapted to their specific environment,” Di Tommaso says. “They’re fire-resistant. They’re insect-resistant, and they just do so well with so much rain.”

And with it, so much anonymity — until 2011, when someone in Oregon published the GPS coordinates and directions to the grove on the Internet in 2011. The race to see them was on.

“You could actually go to Google Maps, type in “Grove of Titans,” and it would tell you exactly where it was.”

That’s when tree lovers began to put the grove in peril.

The grove had no trail, but it could be found by bushwacking off the Mill Creek Trail off Howland Hill Road. Visitors slogged through the ferns and duff, making tracks to find the grove.

Visitors routinely scrambled up the bark bases to get pictures with the huge trees, and over time they killed off many of the ferns that cloaked the bases and trampled the duff enough to expose these trees’ shallow root systems.

Denial of the grove’s existence stopped becoming a viable option.

The tactic shifted to acknowledgment and protection.

“We didn’t see an alternative to it,” Silver says. “We realized there really wasn’t any alternative for us.”

The state and federal parks joined with the Save the Redwoods League, and the Redwood Parks Conservancy launched an ambitious fundraising program, which has secured enough funding to begin work but remains about $45,000 shy.

Donations have come largely from private entities, ranging from large corporate trusts to grade-school kids holding bake sales, Silver says.

“The support from all across the country has been amazing,” Silver says.

People interested in donating can do so through

Parks officials closed Mill Creek Trail in early November and have begun rehabbing eroded portions of the path between Howland Hill Road and Smith River, hauling in gravel with wheelbarrows and building bridges over seasonal streams.

But the big effort will be an elevated walkway that will snake through the grove 2 to 3 feet above sensitive roots and ferns.

The rail-less walkway will feature a slip-resistant metal surface that should last decades, Silver says.

“You can stomp your feet and it’s still more quiet than a wood deck. And it’s the color of the redwood duff.”

The trail and public access to the area will be closed until the project is completed, which is expected to be spring of 2021, Silver says.

Then the public will be invited to experience the Grove of Titans in all its splendor, but without trampling the trees.

“It’ll provide access and protect the trees as well,” Silver says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or Follow him on Twitter at

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