The Sempervirens Fund—a group instrumental in the creation of Big Basin State Park more than 120 years ago—plans to buy a 153-acre property bordering the park by Jan. 31. They hope to open the land to the public for recreation and eventually make it part of the historic state park.
“We’ve got files and files going back decades trying to conserve this property,” says Sara Barth, executive director of the Sempervirens Fund. “And it was only in the last year that things really turned around, and we finally got the opportunity that we’ve been waiting for.”
The previous owner, Roy Kaylor, had piled up rusted cars and garbage around the property since 1984. The mess appeared on an episode of the TV show Hoarders in 2011. After years of ignoring cleanup orders and fines from the county, Kaylor lost the property to court-appointed receivers, who began cleanup efforts.
Verve Coffee Roasters co-owner Colby Barr purchased the land in 2020 and continued the restoration.
“You would never imagine that it’s the same property,” says Barth. “It looks beautiful.”
The area boasts healthy second-growth redwoods, Douglas firs, madrones and tanoaks.
“It’s really the old-growth of the future right there on that property,” says Barth. She describes waterfalls, deep ravines and burbling streams. “The property is of a caliber that is worthy of addition to Big Basin, and it’s worthy of public visitation,” she says.
Sempervirens approached Barr about the property last spring.
“It felt serendipitous when we started talking,” says Barr.
Barr says he loves the redwoods and the Santa Cruz Mountains and did not have plans to develop the land.
“There’s no better place this property could end up,” he says, citing his admiration for the Sempervirens’ work and their role in creating California’s first state park.
“What foresight people had back then, at a time when I’m sure it was very not-cool to try to protect the trees,” he says.
“I always thought maybe someday they would end up with the land anyway,” Barr says with a laugh.
The Sempervirens Fund calls the property the Gateway to Big Basin. It borders the park and is split by highway 236.
“It has representatives of all of the other ecosystem types found in Big Basin,” says Barth. “The hope is that this becomes an alternative way for the public to experience the forests and the feel of Big Basin.”
The area burned in the CZU fire, but not as intensely as the neighboring state park. With a bit of effort to improve trails and access, the land could open to visitors much sooner than Big Basin’s fire-scarred backcountry.
“And if state parks can plan during their ‘Reimagining Process’ for this property being part of the park, it opens up a world of additional options for them around where they might put campgrounds, and trails and things like that,” says Barth.
Sempervirens will manage the land directly after the purchase, but they hope to transfer it to California State Parks relatively quickly.
The property could prove important for the recovery of the forests in the park. In Big Basin, most of the Douglas firs died, but many in the gateway property survived.
“The survival of the Douglas firs on the Gateway property will be a gift to regional forests that lost so many firs in the CZU fire, including most of the firs in Big Basin,” said Laura McLendon, the Sempervirens Fund’s director of conservation, in a press release.
The gateway property also contains part of the headwaters—or beginnings—of the Boulder Creek watershed.
“It feeds into a larger watershed that’s really key to salmon recovery efforts in the region,” says Barth. Keeping headwaters clean improves the health of ecosystems and waters downstream.
The group created a $2.86 million Campaign to Preserve the Gateway to Big Basin to cover the $2,415,000 property cost and $346,500 for stewardship and management programs. They have currently raised $2.18 million toward the goal and have until Jan. 31 to come up with the rest.
“We do have a donor who’s offered to match up to $100,000 in gifts,” says Barth. “So if people are inspired to give, they should know that at the moment, it’s a good time because the donation will be doubled.”
Barth feels optimistic about the final push and future of the property.
“To me, this story is both one of great hope and resilience,” she says. “We’ve been trying for so long. The property’s gone through so much. And now it’s in great condition, and it’s finally the moment where we’re going to be able to see it protected.”