But for those that don’t live in the narrow strip of land from south of San Francisco to just over the Oregon border, the redwoods are a vacation destination.
They also frequently attract writers and filmmakers.
This year, the redwoods and those who strive to protect them are a point of interest for the likes of National Geographic Magazine and famed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.
“Things pop up at times,” said Rick Nolan, chief of interpretation for Redwood National and State Parks about the national attention the redwoods are about to receive. “A culmination of projects have come together at once.”
This exposure could inspire more Americans and foreigners to visit the region, and local tourism officials are looking at ways to draw those people to this neck of the woods.
From top to bottom
The October issue of National Geographic Magazine will feature conservationist and explorer-in-residence Michael Fay’s year-long, 700-mile-hike through redwood forests.
A spokesperson for National Geographic said that a “big cover story” on redwoods will be coming out in October, but declined to give more details.
Local officials have heard that the entire edition may be devoted to the redwoods, and that its unique cover will fold out into an eight-page flap to show an enormous tree from top to bottom.
Known as the Redwood Transect, Fay’s trip was modeled after his 2,000-mile Megatransect through central Africa in 1997.
In September 2007, Fay started at the southernmost redwood tree south of San Francisco and worked his way to the northernmost tree in Southern Oregon, near Brookings.
“He hiked the entire coastal redwood range,” said Steve Chaney, Redwood National Park superintendent.
Fay’s article will be about the ecology and history of redwoods and the effects of logging on the giant trees, Chaney said.
Terry Hofstra, the chief of resources management and science for Redwood National and State Parks, met Fay when he spent the night in Orick, Calif., on his way north. Fay passed through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith State Park and the Mill Creek acquisition area – it took him months to do this, Hofstra said.
Fay’s focus during the Redwood Transect was on the conservation of redwoods and sustainable logging, Hofstra said.
“His goal was to try to support protecting the redwoods and finding a way to contribute in an economic way,” Hofstra said.
The article should cover the whole range of redwoods, he explained, from old-growth to second-growth trees, those in protected areas and those still being logged. But, it’s difficult to know what exactly will make it into the magazine.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Hofstra said. “I suspect he was getting a feel for what’s in the entire range of redwoods.”
Capturing the moment
Michael “Nick” Nichols, a staff photographer for National Geographic, spent about a year operating out of Orick, shooting photographs of redwoods for the magazine. Nichols also documented Fay on his Megatransect in Africa.
Richard Stenger, media marketing manager for Humboldt Conference and Visitors Bureau, met Nichols while he was living in Orick. He said the cover art is expected to be an eight-page foldout of a redwood from top to bottom that Nichols shot in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It’s a “fantastic photo,” Stenger said.
“Fantastic” is a word that pops up a lot in conversations about Nichols’ photography.
Both Fay and Nichols climbed redwoods with Humboldt State University Professor Steve Sillett while learning about tree-top ecology. Hofstra said Nichols got some “fantastic shots from tops of old growth.”
Nichols also spent time in all of Del Norte County’s redwood parks, Hofstra said, in order “to capture the resources Mike Fay had encountered.”
Stenger said Nichols set up remote cameras in the forest to capture wildlife, including mountain lions, bears and a few smiling locals from Orick who figured out where the camera was located.
Before Nichols left Orick a few months ago, he gave a slideshow presentation showing some of his photos taken locally and all over the world. Stenger said Nichols “fell in love with the community.”
Nolan also got a peek at some of the photos.
They were the typical “spectacular” photos one would expect to see in National Geographic Magazine, he said.
“(Nichols) is one of those true adventurers willing to get out before dawn to hopefully get a photograph,” Nolan said, “to do just about anything, dragging through the wilderness, to get the photograph.”
Stenger said Nichols not only capture photos of redwoods and wildlife, but of the people deeply invested in the ongoing debate about about the logging of second-growth trees.
“He really got a good sense of how polarized the debate over redwoods is,” Stenger said. “He was sympathetic to both sides and reflected that he had never seen an issue so much on the left and the right and neither was wrong.”
One photo in particular captured that dichotomy, Stenger said. It was of the head of a logging company and of a tree-sitter.
“He captured the respect they had for each other,” Stenger explained. “He did a good job of documenting all walks of life and more importantly seeing when they were united.”
About the same time National Geographic Magazine’s redwoods issue will hit newsstands, the Public Broadcasting Service will air filmmaker Ken Burns’ documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” in late September.
“It’s very exciting,” Chaney said. “It’s expected to be a good documentary series.”
It’s definitely not a “nature film,” he added.
The 12-hour series will be shown on PBS in two-hour segments over six days, Nolan explained. Some of the filming was done about a year ago in Redwood National Parks, Chaney said.
Burns has been working on the documentary for the last 10 years. It is about the history of national parks and features a short segment on Redwood National Parks.
“It highlights the idea that national parks are a uniquely American idea,” Nolan said. “All people own these parks and have stake in them.”
It also shows the variety of natural beauty within America’s boundaries and the efforts to preserve those places, Nolan said, such as the redwoods.
“The profile of Redwood National Park is one of the highlights – it’s a special resource people can see,” Nolan said.
The documentary doesn’t have a larger segment on Redwood National Park because it traces the history of national parks only until the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was right before the parks were expanded to preserve more redwoods.
“It doesn’t get into the contentious period of expansion,” Chaney said.
Regardless, Nolan is planning a movie night to show PBS’ one-hour synopsis of the series in Crescent City sometime in early September. Redwood National Parks has also been working on its own hour-long film, which is expected to be done in August, Nolan said, which he would like to premiere locally.
Visit the redwoods!
Local tourism officials are hoping that the National Geographic cover story and Burns’ documentary on national parks will entice more people to visit the redwoods. A boost in tourism could mean more tax money for local governments and bigger profits for businesses.
“We’re working to respond and to take advantage of what National Geographic is doing,” said Tony Smithers, executive director of the Humboldt Conference and Visitors Bureau.
For Smithers, that means making sure that when people Google “redwoods,” Humboldt Conference and Visitors Bureau’s Web site is one of the first on the list. The Web site then directs people on where to stay, go shopping, visit or eat.
Smithers said about $50,000 of Humboldt Conference and Visitors Bureau’s annual budget goes towards paying Google for the privilege. The money has paid off: www.redwoods.info has risen in popularity and gets anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 visitors a day, Smithers said.
“The hope is that more people than ever will be aware of the redwoods and desire to see them for themselves,” he said.
While the majority of the Humboldt Visitors Bureau’s marketing is dedicated towards Humboldt County, some is also directed toward Del Norte, he said. That’s because the two counties have the common denominator of the Redwood National and State Parks, Smithers said.