Parks Staff, volunteers, and contractors were among those who worked to help turn fire-ravaged trees into fencing. — Submitted

Those familiar with the popular Vancouver Island lumberjack show “Big Timber” on Netflix, know the riveting storylines that emerge from working with giant trees—and the care it takes to do historic preservation right.

Down here in California, in the state’s oldest state park, officials experienced plenty of similar challenges as the community continues to heal from a devastating wildfire.

Many of the redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park managed to survive after 97% of it was scorched during the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex, but others had to be felled. And much of the fencing was destroyed.

“It was really emotional for a lot of people to get back into the park and to see the changes,” said Bonny Hawley, the executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. “Obviously there were devastating losses to historic structures, employee housing and bridges, however a lot of people are really inspired by the regrowth.”

In addition to the greenery reappearing, it’s taken months to begin to rebuild the park’s infrastructure—and to deal with teetering trunks and branches littering the terrain.

California State Parks didn’t want to just chip all the damaged wood into smithereens.

So, Patrick Courtright, a State Parks maintenance supervisor, helmed a project to transform torched redwoods into gorgeous split-rail fencing.

“It’s a unique type of work,” he said in a release. “It’s not something you get to do every day.”

With the help of State Parks staff, volunteer laborers and California Conservation Corps members, Courtright worked to pump out hundreds of feet of split rails and install the fencing in Big Basin.

Bringing that vision into reality was easier said than done.

For instance, they couldn’t find a local mill with the right “checker,” or wedge, to section the logs into pieces.

Courtright decided he had to make his own. He turned to a forge in Washington State that could produce something that would be right for the job. Mountain Parks Foundation agreed to cover the cost of a half-dozen of the tools.

Slicing the timber into usable sections could be finicky.

“Sometimes the log will split clean but a lot of times you get there and you have to use pry tools like rock bars and pry bars to finish,” Courtright said. “You’re just pounding like the dickens.”

The design they used was simple yet ruggedly elegant: 5-foot posts support two 10-foot rails.

They even shaved down the material with a drawknife to reduce the chance of visitors taking splinters home as souvenirs.

But the payoff was worth it, say those who’ve seen the results of the revival project.

“We were so impressed by the work,” Hawley said. “This is the kind of fencing that there was up there before the fire. It helps define the trails and it just looks really beautiful.”

The fencing is also an attractive way to mark off areas where visitors currently aren’t allowed to go, although officials say they’re trying to get more sections of the park open soon.

A single log can produce about 30 to 40 rails in a matter of hours.

The crews—including personnel from the park’s maintenance, resource management, visitor services, and roads and trails departments—made around 400 pieces in total.

“We were part of a volunteer work day that happened last April,” Hawley said. “It’s pretty hard work.”

Contractors also assisted with the installation of fencing along Redwood Loop Trail, near the Campfire Center, just before the park’s long-awaited opening date of July 22.

Parks officials remind the public that parking costs $8 and a reservation is required.

State Parks day-use passes (and other entry programs) are honored, though there is a reservation fee of $2.

In total, 88 vehicles, including four reserved for those with ADA placards, can be let into the park each day.

Previous articleLetters to the Editor, Oct. 14
Next articleFour Vying for Two Seats on Scotts Valley School Board
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here