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Just under three hours from San Francisco, 730 acres of ancient redwood forest will open to the public for the very first time as the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve in 2021.

For nearly 150 years, the forest was privately owned by the Richardson family, who managed the 8,000-acre Richardson Ranch, which encompasses a vineyard, cattle ranch and timber mill. According to Outside Online, Herbert Archer Richardson bought the property in 1870 and passed it down through the generations.

The reserve is the largest old-growth redwood forest in private hands and contains the oldest known redwood south of Mendocino County. The so-called McAlpin Tree is believed to be 1,640 years old, and the diameter of its trunk is as wide as a two-lane street. It supplants the oldest known tree in Muir Woods National Monument — one of the country’s most famous redwood forests — which clocks in at 1,200 years old.

Photo courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.
Photo courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.

After Harold Richardson, the family’s patriarch, passed away in 2016, the inheritance tax on the land proved to be too much for his heirs. After much negotiation, they came to a deal with Save the Redwoods League over the summer, a nonprofit organization that has protected over 200,000 acres and created 66 redwood parks since its inception in 1918.

“It’s as if we’ve discovered an ancient civilization; an oasis of towering redwoods hidden from public view for over a century,” Sam Hodder, league president and CEO, said in a statement. “We are grateful for the Richardson family’s foresight in stewarding this forest with such care and allowing us the opportunity to save it. The League envisions stewarding this property as a public park in the future for all to enjoy — the first new old-growth redwood park in a generation.”

Photo courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.
Photo courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.

The reserve’s creation is good news for Sonoma County, which suffered from wildfires in 2017, and for California as a whole. The state’s forests are under threat from logging and natural disasters, including wildfires and storms such as the one that brought down the famous “Pioneer Cabin Tree” in Calaveras Big Trees State Park in 2017. In fact, before 1850, there were 2 million acres of old-growth trees, but today only 5% of the old-growth coast redwood forest remains.

In addition to stunning redwoods and sequoias, the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve is also home to the rare northern spotted owl, Townsend’s big-eared bat, salamanders, the imperiled marbled murrelet (a sea bird that nests in the redwoods’ large boughs) and other rare flora and fauna. Hodder called it, “the newest gem on California’s crown of redwood parks.”

You’ll have to wait a few years to visit the new reserve (Save the Redwoods League has to develop a public access plan and establish hiking trails), so in the meantime, we suggest checking out the classics: Muir Woods, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Redwood National Park, among others.

Featured photo courtesy of Save the Redwoods League.

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