In August of 2020, the CZU Lightning Complex tore through the forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. On the east, the fire kissed the perimeter of downtown Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, and on the top of the ridge, the flames raced up the trunks of trees, and propelled themselves down the slope of the mountain toward the coast.
Perched atop the ridge, Big Basin Redwoods State Park was consumed by fire, and nearly 97% of the forest burned, including the visitor’s center. The ecological impacts to the area are hard to grasp, but one agency is seeking to reinvigorate the forest: Sempervirens Fund.
While the agency is known for its sacred stewardship of natural spaces, it has a new focus in its sights: the purchase of the 153-acre Gateway land on upper 236.
“Gateway is just our term for it,” said Sara Barth, executive director of Sempervirens Fund.
Locals may better know the area as the Kaylor property. Featured in a 2011 episode of “Hoarders,” Roy Kaylor’s eccentricity was a known quantity to local officials as his collection of old cars, trucks and machinery littered the forest floor. Although he swore he purchased the property as a means of protecting the redwoods, Kaylor’s refusal to clear the land of accumulated detritus left him at odds with the county, where fines mounted and lawsuits were filed to cast him from the site.
According to Barth, Sempervirens Fund approached Kaylor decades before in the hopes of purchasing the land and offering him a way out from his ever-growing financial abyss. He refused. Then, in June of 2020, Verve Coffee Roasters co-founder Colby Barr purchased the land from Kaylor and the county, and the clean-up was underway.
When the CZU fires ripped through the area, it was nothing short of a miracle that the vehicles and machinery had been cleared just months before, and that no lasting ecological damage had further impacted the land.
“The fire burned through the property, but it was a low-level, low-intensity fire,” said Barth.
“Once the fire had passed, Mr. Barr reached out to us to get forest management advice on how best to take care of the property,” added Barth. “After several conversations, he understood that the best way to care for the land was to include it as part of Big Basin, so we are buying it from him. The stars aligned on this one.”
The price tag of $2.86 million is steep for the agency, so a fundraising campaign has been in the works. With about $2.2 million raised thus far, Sempervirens Fund is hoping that starry-eyed conservationists will see clear to contributing to the cause.
The hope is that the new acquisition will be included in the reimagining of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
“We, and State Parks, have the hope and vision that this will be an area where visitors can access the trails and ecosystems of Big Basin, and potentially create campsites so that people can enjoy the park,” said Barth.
Currently, the forest of Big Basin is simply too dangerous to allow visitors, so Barth sees this as an introduction to experiencing the park’s forest without actually entering the park itself. Call it “Big Basin Lite.”
Barth says the agency has until the end of January to raise the funds needed to complete the purchase, but with a donation match of up to $100,000, Barth is hopeful that the goal will be reached.
The $2.86 million Campaign to Preserve the Gateway to Big Basin would fund the purchase price of $2,415,000 and includes $346,500 for stewardship programs to improve the health and resilience of the forest habitats on the property.
“We really need the public’s support to make the difference,” said Barth. “If you love redwoods, Big Basin, or both, this is a big moment for their future.”
Want to help preserve the land for generations to come? Visit sempervirens.org/gateway to learn more or donate.