With homes nestled amongst majestic oaks, redwoods and deciduous pines on steep hillsides entwined with seasonal streams or sprawling meadows that welcome wildlife, residents of Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley live in one of the more serene locations in the U.S.
The beauty of the area draws plenty of attention, and, now, the Sempervirens Fund is partnering with REI and AllTrails to bring something else this way: money to help with reforestation efforts.
On April 22—Earth Day—the agencies are joining forces by hosting a national Hug-A-Tree Challenge. Between noon-1pm, participants are invited to post a photo on Instagram of themselves, or someone else, hugging a tree with the hashtag #hugatreechallenge. For each photo posted on Instagram with the hashtag, REI will donate $1 to Sempervirens Fund, up to $10,000, for the reforestation of redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In addition to the money being raised, there’s another effort underway: to help establish a Guinness World Records title for the most photos of people hugging trees uploaded to Instagram in one hour.
“We need a minimum of 500 people to post one photo of someone hugging a tree. It can be any kind of tree, from a sapling to a full-grown one,” Sempervirens spokesperson Matthew Shaffer says. “Each picture may only contain one person—anyone, anywhere can participate so long as they tag the photo with the hashtag and upload it to Instagram during that one-hour period. Each participant may only post one photo, and each photo may only be posted by one person, not multiple people.”
Shaffer says his team expects to establish that record, and at this point, it’s a matter of how big a record they can set.
Shaffer has been with the nonprofit since July of 2020, but previously worked for the Trust for Public Land. His start at Sempervirens came on the cusp of the CZU Lightning Complex. His work has been made all the more meaningful due to the damage done to the Santa Cruz Mountains by the fire, which burned over 86,500 acres and decimated the entirety of the San Vicente Redwoods (SVR) property, the largest privately-held redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. More than 900 residences in Santa Cruz County were destroyed, and one Last Chance resident, Tad Jones, was the sole fatality in the fire, which was caused by a dry lightning storm with over 11,000 lightning strikes on a hot August night in 2020.
While competing for a Guinness Book of World Records entry is a fun distraction, the serious work of Sempervirens Fund continues.
“For us, we think of this as our gift back to a worldwide community who have supported us during a time of deep urgency, not only due to rampant climate change, but also catastrophic events like the CZU fire,” Shaffer says.
He adds: “Our organization has always been centered on protecting coastal redwoods, and specifically the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. There are many urgent and pressing issues related to climate change, and we hope people will take action, speak out and speak up during the midst of this extraordinary crisis. We can’t outpace climate, and the forests need our help. Redwoods store more carbon than any other tree species—we need more of them, and we need to protect what we have to ensure they’re around for generations to come.”
While REI is providing the funding for the challenge, AllTrails.com, a site for hiking enthusiasts, is helping to promote the effort, and working with Sempervirens to restore some local hiking trails when Big Basin Redwoods State Park comes back online (it’s currently closed to the public). Anyone interested in participating in the #hugatreechallenge can learn more at sempervirens.org/hug-a-tree/#hug-faqs.