Copyright, RD Payne

National Park Service History Electronic Library & Archive

The NPS History Electronic Library & Archive is a portal to electronic publications covering the history of the National Park Service (NPS) and the cultural and natural history of the national parks, monuments, and historic sites of the U.S. National Park System. The information contained in this Website is historical in scope and is not meant as an aid for travel planning; please refer to the official NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Website for current/additional information. While we are not affiliated with the National Park Service, we gratefully acknowledge the contributions by park employees and advocates, which has enabled us to create this free digital repository.


New eLibrary Additions

Featured Publication

book cover
cover only

The Fight to Save the Redwoods: A History of Environmental Reform, 1917-1978
(Susan R. Schrepfer, 1983)

National Parks and Monuments (Herbert W. Gleason, 1917)

The Painter and the National Parks (William H. Holmes, 1917)

The Economic Destiny of the National Parks (J. Horace McFarland, 1917)

The National Parks For All the People and Perhaps Our Greatest National Park (The Greater Sequoia) (Enos Mills, 1917)

National Monuments as Wild-Life Sanctuaries (T.S. Palmer, 1917)

Chaco Canyon National Monument, New Mexico (1941)

State of the Park: 2021, Yellowstone National Park (2022)

1908 Springfield Race Riot Special Resource Study Newsletter (August 2022)

President Street Station Special Resource Study Newsletter (August 2022)

America's Cultural Legacy at Risk: How Oil & Gas Development is Harming Sacred Sites & Cultural Landscapes in Our National Parks & Monuments (Archaeology Southwest and The Coalition to Protect America's National Parks, July 2022)

American Indian Tribal Affiliation Study Phase I: Ethnohistoric Literature Review (Nancy A. Kenmotsu and Mariah F. Wade, ©Texas Department of Transportation, 2002)

Astronomy and Astrophysics: National Historic Landmark Theme Study (Harry A. Butowsky, May 1989)

Insects of Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho University of Idaho Miscellaneous Series No. 8 (Donald S. Horning, Jr. and William F. Barr, May 1970)

National Historic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment: El Camino Real de Los Tejas, Texas-Louisiana (April 1998)

Maritime glacier retreat and terminus area change in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, between 1984 and 2021 (Taryn Black and Deborah Kurtz, extract from Journal of Glaciology, June 8, 2022)

George Rogers Clark: Archaeology of a Frontier Hero (Amy Johnson, Date Unknown)

Cultural Landscape Report and Environmental Assessment, Effigy Mounds National Monument Final Report (Quinn Evans Architects, June 2016)

Archeological Overview and Assessment: Blow-Me-Down Farm, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire Final (James Lee and Eryn Boyce, July 2017)

The Geochronological Story of National Park Service Paleontology (Justin S. Tweet and Vincent L. Santucci, extract from New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 90, 2022)

Architectural Evaluation, Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement, Molokai, Hawaii (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, July 1979)

Kalaupapa Building Inventory, Kalaupapa, Hawaii: Volume I (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, March 1977)

Kalaupapa Building Inventory, Kalaupapa, Hawaii: Volume II (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, March 1977)

Kalaupapa Building Inventory, Kalaupapa, Hawaii: Volume III (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, March 1977)

The Nez Perce Indians in Canada, 1877 and After (Jerome A. Greene, December 2007)

Ethnographic Overview and Assessment, New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area (Mary Hufford, September 2007)

Report on the Historical Documentation of the Location and Extent of the Sand Creek Massacre Site Draft (Jerome A. Greene, May 1999)

Confinement in the Land of Enchantment: Japanese Americans and the WW II Confinement Camps of New Mexico (2018)

Santa Fe National Historic Trail, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Overview (April 2021)

Programmatic Agreement Among the National Park Service (U.S. Department of the Interior), the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers for Compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (2008)

NPS Nationwide Programmatic Agreement National Guidance Document (May 2022)

National Park Service Geologic Type Section Inventory, Northern Great Plains Inventory & Monitoring Network NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NGPN/NRR-2022/2439 (Tim C. Henderson, Vincent L. Santucci, Tim Connors and Justin S. Tweet, August 2022)

Photographic Guide to the Bryophytes of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (John Brinda, April 2011)

The Potomac Heritage Trail: A Proposed National Scenic Trail (December 1974)

Strategic Partnership Plan for the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail 2022-2027, Virginia-District of Columbia-Maryland-Pennsylvania (January 2022)

Crystalline Rocks of the Potomac River Gorge Near Washington, D.C. U.S. Geological Survey Profesional Paper 414-H (John C. Reed, Jr. and Janice Jolly, 1963)

Final Report on the Remins of an Old Ship Found on Bodie Island, Dare County, North Carolina, May 3, 1939 (Thor Borresen, 1939)

Assessment of Alternatives: General Management Plan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (August 1979)

Draft General Management Plan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (August 1979)

Drat General Management Plan: Executive Summary, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (August 1979)

Resource Information Base, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan (August 1979)

Test Excavation of Several Geophysical Anomalies, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (14SH113), Shawnee County, Kansas Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 82 (Scott Stadler, 2002)

Under White Haven: An Archeological Overview and Assessment of Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 89 (Douglas D. Scott, Karin M. Roberts and Vergil E. Noble, 2004)

The 1993 and 1994 Archeological Investigations at James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Mentor, Lake County, Ohio Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 133 (Rose E. Pennington, 2013)

Exploring the Wildland Fire and Archeology Interface in the Midwest: An Experimental Program to Investigate Impacts from Fire on Archeological Resources Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 134 (Jay T. Sturdevant Rod Skalsky, Cody L. Wienk, Brennan Dolan, Dustin Gonzales and David Amrine, 2014)

Archeological Testing of Two Historic Properties at Lincoln Home National Historic Site: The Henson Robinson and Jesse K. Dubois House Lots Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 135 (Vergil E. Noble, 2014)

Geophysical Investigations and Archeological Monitoring of the Underground Electric Line Installation Project Area at the Fort Larned National Historic Site, 14PA305, Pawnee County, Kansas Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 136 (Steven L. De Vore and Melissa A. Baier, 2014)

General Information Regarding Acadia National Park, Maine (1933)

General Information Regarding Glacier National Park, Montana (1933)

General Information Regarding Hawaii National Park (1933)

Rules and Regulations Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas (1924)

General Information Regarding Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas (1933)

Rules and Regulations Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (1924)

General Information Regarding Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (1933)

Rules and Regulations Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (1924)

General Information Regarding Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, California (1933)

General Information Regarding Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota (1933)

Featured Publication

book cover
Yosemite Ranger-Naturalist Manual

Yosemite National Park

Cultural Landscape Report: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park — Volume One (Land and Community Associates, October 1994)

Cultural Landscape Report: Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park — Volume Two (Land and Community Associates, October 1994)

Historic Structures Report: The Ahwahnee (Architectural Resources Group, Inc., January 2011)

Yosemite Ranger-Naturalist Manual (2d ed., June 1929)

Vol. I: Manual of Instruction

Vol. II: Manual of Information

Vol. III: Plan of Administration

Final Yosemite Valley Plan — Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

Vol Ia: Purpose and Need, Alternatives, Affected Environment (November 2000)

Vol Ib Part 1: Environmental Consequences (November 2000)

Vol Ib Part 2: Environmental Consequences (November 2000)

Vol Ic: Plates (November 2000)

Vol II: Appendices (November 2000)

Vol III: Public Comments and Responses (November 2000)

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Colorado Petrified Forest (c1960s)

Your Souvenir Forest Guide of the Colorado Petrified Forest (c1960s)

Colorado Petrified Forest and Guest Ranch (Date Unknown)

Colorado Petrified Forest (Date Unknown)

Colorado Petrified Forest (Date Unknown)

Henderson Petrified Forest (Date Unknown)

Conservation Study Institute (currently Stewardship Institute)

Annual Reports (Conservation Study Institute): 1998-19992000-20012002-2004

Collaboration and Conservation: Lessons Learned in Areas Managed through National Park Service Partnerships — A Report on a Workshop May 15-17, 2000, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Woodstock, Vermont Conservation and Stewardship Publication No. 3 (2001)

Conservation Study Institute: Overview (March 2007)

Connecting Stories, Landscapes, and People: Exploring the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Partnership: Executive Summary (2006)

Expanding Horizons: Highlights from the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation (October 2014)

Green Voice (March 2007)

Readings that Informed the Concept for the Network for Innovation and Creativity: An Annotated Bibliography (Alison Fostre, Jennifer Jewiss, Rebecca Stanfield McCown, Brent Mitchell and Nora Mitchell, 2011)

Learning Together: Proceedings, Evaluation, and Applying Lessons Learned: Executive Summary (June 2007)

21st Century National Parks: Lessons from the Field on New Parks (2019)

A Park for Every Classroom: 8 Case Studies (c2011)

The Benefits of Place-based Education: A Report from the Place-based Education Evaluation Collaborative (2nd ed., 2010)

Evaluation Research to Support National Park Service 21st Century Relevancy Initiatives (Rebecca Stanfield McGown, c2008)

Evaluation Research to Support National Park Service 21st Century Relevancy Initiatives: Narrative Accompaniment to PowerPoint (Daniel N. Laven, September 2008)

Lessons Learned From the Massachusetts Area Parks Student Career Intake Program (SCIP), Year 1: A Technical Assistance Report (Jennifer Jewiss, Daniel Laven and Nora Mitchell, September 2010)

Stewardship Begins With People: An Atlas of Places, People & Hand-Made Products — Project Update (July 2004)

Urban Lights: Illuminating Progress on the NPS Urban Agenda (Duncan Dodson, 2017)

The Future of Working Cultural Landscapes: Parks, Partners, and Local Products — Workshop Report (October 2008)

Sustainability News: Spring 2002Fall/Winter 2002Summer 2003Summer 2004Spring 2005Fall 2006

Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area Feasibility Study for National Heritage Area Designation (February 2009)

A National Park on the Potomac River (Amos B. Casselman, 1917)

H.R. 8265 — A Bill to establish the Peel National Park at the Pea Ridge battle field in Benton County, Arkansas 68th Congress, 1st Session (March 27, 1924)

Red River Cypress Swamp Special Area Report, Louisiana (June 1962)

Report on Proposed National Beach Park near Duck, North Carolina (Hugh A. Campbell, September 21, 1934)

Report on Proposed National Beach Park Between Elmore Inlet and the Pender-Onslow County Line, North Carolina (Hugh A. Campbell, October 20, 1934)

Report on Proposed National Beach Park Between Masons Inlet and Elmore Inlet, North Carolina (Hugh A. Campbell, October 20, 1934)

Report on Proposed National Beach Park Between New and White Oak Rivers, North Carolina (Hugh A. Campbell, October 19, 1934)

Investigation Report on Francis W. Pickens National Park, Edgefield County, South Carolina (Herbert E. Kahler and Ralston B. Lattimore, September 15, 1936)

Proposed Shadwell National Park, Birthplace of Jefferson (1944-1949)

Sutton Mountain-Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon (2021)

History of the Rogue River National Forest: Volume 1 (1893-1932) (Carroll E. Brown, comp., January 1960)

History of the Rogue River National Forest: Volume 2 (1933-1969) (Carroll E. Brown, comp., 1985?)

Snapshot In Time: Repeat Photography on the Boise National Forest 1870-1992 (July 1993)

NPS Reflections

Coast Redwoods
(Harpers Ferry Center)

Nurse log in an ancient coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forest. (NPS photo)
Watershed Park
Administrative History of Redwood National and State Parks

Administrative histories are important for all parks, but especially important for a park such as Redwood which has a controversial history, a unique resources management program and a record of complex relationships with the surrounding communities. --Ann King Smith (1994)


Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) in far northwestern California is a composite of four park units cooperatively managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR). Redwood National Park (RNP), a federal park under the jurisdiction of the NPS, encompasses the lower third of the Redwood Creek watershed as well as several narrow stretches of coastline and forest between Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods state parks. Together these four contiguous parks span a 50-mile stretch of land that encompasses some 132,000 acres in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Within this expanse, the federal and state parks protect about 39,000 acres of old-growth forest, but most of the total parks area is made up of second-growth trees—with some areas in the Mill Creek and Rock Creek drainages cut as recently as 1999.

This unbalanced mix of old-growth and second-growth forest not only reflects the history of lumbering along California’s North Coast, but it also defines the two fundamental purposes of the parks: preservation and restoration. From the original purchase of 166 acres for Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in 1923 to the establishment of Redwood National Park in 1968, the parks collectively represent the history of efforts to protect spectacular old.growth forests from industrial timber harvesting. Since the expansion of Redwood National Park in 1978, which mostly involved the acquisition of heavily logged and roaded areas, the federal park has largely been devoted to watershed restoration. This mission recently also expanded to Del Norte Redwoods State Park with the acquisition of 25,000 acres of mostly cutover lands in the Mill Creek drainage.

U.S. Congressman William Kent (left) and Stephen T. Mather in Redwoods National & State Parks. (Plaque on rock to Kent's right reads: This tree is Dedicated to Gifford Pinchot). (F. Ransome photo)

Renowned for tall trees and watershed restoration, RNSP also protects a 37-mile stretch of largely undeveloped coastline, traverses the lower reaches of the Smith and Klamath rivers—both of which are designated wild and scenic—and encompasses oak woodlands, upland and coastal prairies, lagoons, and tidewater environments. Within the park’s narrow boundaries, which vary from as little as .5 to 8 miles wide and never extend more than 15 miles from the coast, elevations range from sea level to more than 3,000 feet.1 The result is a diverse and tightly packed array of habitats that support 856 species of flora (699 native to the region, 157 exotic), 75 species of native terrestrial fauna, and 433 avifauna (398 native, 35 exotic). Some of the species that are either endangered or of special concern include Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus Roosevelt), Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus), Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), southern torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus), and beach layia (Layia carnosa).2 This rich and varied environment has supported and been shaped by human communities for thousands of years, and RNSP extends across the aboriginal territories of three distinct groups historically known as the Tolowa, Yurok, and Chilula. The protected and restored environments within the parks, as well as the numerous cultural sites they contain, remain places of ongoing significance for the native communities of the North Coast.

While the parks area protects a diverse ecosystem and reflects the vitality of American Indian cultures along the North Coast, it has also been profoundly shaped by the processes that dispossessed Native American peoples and created a completely new regime of land use and property holding that included mining, farming, ranching, fishing, and logging. Such historical developments are most readily seen in old ranch buildings, a long-closed fish hatchery, logging roads, and dense second-growth forests, but they are also evident in the variety of exotic plant and bird species inhabiting in the park, the levees lining the lower reach of Redwood Creek, and the major highways running through RNSP. Even the tallest, most ancient stands of redwoods are marked by very human concerns—as evidenced in the more than 480 named and signed groves spread across the parks.3 Although it is only partly managed as such, 60 percent or more of the total park acreage fits the NPS definition of a cultural landscape: “A geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or that exhibits other cultural or aesthetic values.”4

Redwood Coast. (NPS photo)

A combination of old-growth forests, previously cutover lands, undeveloped coastline, rehabilitated watersheds, scenic roadways, and former ranches and farms, RNSP’s landscapes neatly trace the varied history of industrial, recreational, agricultural, and ecological approaches to redwoods over the past century. Yet the fundamental purpose of the parks has largely been defined by the effort to physically erase this land-use history. As noted in the parks’ General Management Plan/General Plan (2000), the ultimate goal of natural resource management in the parks complex is to “restore and maintain the RNSP ecosystems as they would have evolved without human influences since 1850 and perpetuate ongoing natural processes.”5 Undoing the past to create, in effect, a different future is itself a very historically specific undertaking—and in many respects, that endeavor is the central subject of this study. Because the past has many advocates and the future many prophets, the history of Redwood has been a complicated affair—defined as much by the claims and counterclaims of various public and private interests as new and sometimes revolutionary developments within the Park Service.

The ideals and conceits behind efforts to restore the aboriginal landscapes of 1850 (or some proximate condition of ecological integrity), necessarily raise a difficult set of questions about the fundamental purpose of RNSP: Should preservation and restoration promote the vitality of social and cultural systems from seven generations ago? Is the parks complex primarily for the benefit and enjoyment of nonresident tourists? Can RNSP be a functional part of—rather than apart from—the broader system of North Coast timber management and harvesting? Can the parks foster the diversification and recovery of the region’s resource based economy? Is the costly acquisition and restoration of economically valuable land an appropriate emphasis for the NPS? At various times, and to varying degrees, the answers to these and related questions have been yes. And on different occasions, they have been no or maybe. Understanding how and when these questions have been answered is central to understanding the history of Redwood National and State Parks, and to making sense of the parks’ future development.

As is the case in all NPS units, the administration of RNSP has reflected the external contexts in which the parks are situated as well as the internal dynamics of the parks themselves. At RNSP, this has resulted in a number of unique approaches to park management that include multiagency administration and study of park resources, a pronounced emphasis on watershed and habitat restoration, and a commitment to public-private cooperative agreements for the protection of park resources. These and other developments have not always occurred by active design, but have often developed in response to budgetary and bureaucratic limitations, or because of conditions and concerns from outside the parks. In every case, however, the history of RNSP has been shaped by the dynamic arrangement and interaction of many different factors, including the timing of the parks’ creation, expansion, and coadministration, the political, economic, geographic, and social contexts of their management, the nature of the resources they protect, and the competing concerns of interested or affected agencies, groups, and individuals.

RNSP within the Coast Redwood Belt. (Adapted from information produced by Save-the-Redwoods League and NPS)


Unlike most national parks, which tend to be named after and defined by a specific place, RNSP is defined by a resource that extends well beyond the parks’ boundaries. The parks complex is near the northern extreme of the coast redwood’s (Sequoia sempervirens) range, which covers a narrow 450-mile band from just north of the Oregon-California border southward to the Santa Lucia Range in Monterey County. For the most part, only 5 to 25 miles across, the Redwood Belt is generally a low elevation forest whose range is limited by rainfall, soil conditions, and the inland extent of the summer fog bank.6 To understand the unique history of RNSP and its broader significance requires an introductory sense of the coast redwood as well the reasons this particular stretch of the larger Redwood Belt is a protected park area. Likewise, a basic appreciation for the special conditions of the lands within the parks, and their larger regional context, is essential for understanding the history of the parks’ creation, expansion, and management.

Like the Grand Canyon or a Yosemite waterfall, coast redwoods possess tremendous symbolic power and instill an awesome reverence among first-time visitors. John Steinbeck, who lived near the redwood forests of the Monterey Bay area his whole life, noted that even the “vainest, most slap-happy and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect. One feels the need to bow to unquestioned sovereigns.”7 Redwoods also bring forth a penchant to list their many superlative attributes. Reaching heights of more than 370 feet, coast redwoods are the tallest living things on the planet. The oldest and largest specimens are more than 2,000 years old and extend some 30 feet around at the base. The trunks of some giants can soar upward of 250 feet before reaching the first major branches of the upper canopy. Under certain conditions, the biomass of a single acre of old-growth redwoods can exceed 1,500 tons—the highest concentration of living material anywhere on earth and more than seven times the average biomass density in the Amazon rainforest.8 Such dry calculations seem to add to rather than detract from the sense that an ancient grove of redwoods is a special world unto itself, where the air, light, and sounds are different, and the gigantic scale and proportions of the trees both humble and inspire at the same time.

Fog in Lady Bird Johnson Grove. (NPS photo)

For all their transcendent virtues, coast redwoods also possess an equally awesome set of commercial attributes. Indeed, many of the tree’s unique botanical characteristics have made it one of the world’s most valuable sources of lumber. The remarkably straight grain of the ancient trees, the near absence of limbs along the length of their tremendous boles, the weather-resisting properties of the tannin-rich wood, the incredible rate of growth in young trees, the ability of a cut forest literally to “replant” itself from sprouts—all these qualities make redwood one of the most prized of all softwoods. Much like statistics about biomass per acre, commercial measures can also stagger the imagination. A single tree in Humboldt County, for instance, once yielded 480,000 board feet of prime lumber—enough to build twenty-two average-sized houses during the post–World War II housing boom.9

For Americans, the aesthetic and industrial appreciation of redwoods has an equally long history. When Walt Whitman published his poem “Song of the Redwood-Tree” in 1874, which equated the clearing of the “stalwart trees imperial” with the great destiny of a “swarming and busy race settling and organizing everywhere,” other Americans feared that unregulated lumbering on the West Coast would destroy the celebrated redwoods and the rest of the nation’s last great forests much as had already occurred in the east. The imminent destruction of the redwoods was not at hand in the 1870s, nor were the forests in the midst of—as Whitman put it—their final “death-chant chanting” a sacrificial paean to the “Empire New.” Yet at the core of both sentiments, redwoods served as potent national symbols: for Whitman, as a measure and instrument of America’s commercial, political, and moral destiny to be a “New Society at last, proportionate to Nature”; and for early conservationists, as supreme examples of America’s natural virtues—manifest in the grand arrangement of western mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and trees that surpassed anything in the known world.10 In both contexts, redwoods served as a kind of divine representation of America’s special greatness. A land that could produce such tremendous trees, especially ones found nowhere else on earth, was surely a chosen nation.

Coast Redwood compared with Statue of Liberty and U.S. Capitol. Comparison indicates scale and national symbolic importance of an old-growth redwood tree. (Save-the-Redwoods League)

Perhaps only Niagara Falls, with its combination of hydroelectric potential and scenic grandeur, ever possessed the same array of symbolic attributes that has defined northern California’s much-touted “Redwood Empire.”11 Like the more specific debates over the limiting or promoting of industrial development at Niagara in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, advocacy for the logging or preservation of redwoods has always rested on a fundamental claim about the meaning of America. At the heart of these disagreements is the irresolvable dynamic of private versus public rights that has lain at the core of national culture and governance since the beginning of the republic. Claims about the fate and purpose of old-growth redwoods have thus always reflected essential questions about the nation. The sometimes-polarizing intensity of the debate has drawn in a wide array of interest groups and agencies, and for more than a century, the world’s tallest trees have variously become the most logged, most fought over, most visited, and most rehabilitated in the world.

Ancient coast redwoods tower above hikers on the Simpson-Reed Grove Trail. (NPS photo)


A singular fact about the lands that comprise Redwood is essential for understanding the history of park: most large national parks that protect an iconic place or resource were carved out of the federal public domain, but nearly every acre of RNSP was valuable private property that had to be purchased in order to make it public park land. Because of redwood lumber’s extraordinary commercial value, garnering enough private and public funds to create or enlarge a park was always a difficult prospect. Even when combined, the boundaries of the national park and the individual state parks have never amounted to what might be considered an ideal park—one large enough to afford full protection to the resource and offer visitors an expansive encounter with old-growth forest.

The odd shape of the parks’ boundaries might not make any ecological sense, but they do represent the basic logic of the marketplace: availability and cost. Before World War II, northern Humboldt and Del Norte counties were situated at one of the furthest removes from the historical markets and processing centers of the redwood lumber industry.12 Consequently, there was a great deal of old-growth forest that could be acquired for the three state parks in the 1920s and 1930s without seriously affecting the timber industry. During the postwar housing boom of the 1950s and 1960s, however, market demand for North Coast redwood logs soared, the price of lumber rose, and ancient forests were clear.cut at an unprecedented rate. In this context, any effort to create more redwood park land operated with a double handicap: not only was redwood acreage more expensive than ever before but areas that had been the most desired for park acquisition also were being cut down. Instead of the stately groves of giant redwoods that flourished in the more accessible lowlands—and most appealed to tourists and early park advocates—the remaining stretches of uncut forest were concentrated in steep areas where redwoods tended to be smaller and were more intermixed with Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and other tree species. This basic reality is clearly reflected in the 1968 establishment of Redwood National Park and its subsequent expansion in 1978. These actions represented two of the most expensive park acquisitions in NPS history; yet they were relatively small in terms of acreage because of the extraordinary costs involved, and generally comprised mixed redwood and fir forests along with recently cutover lands.

Presidential party after the dedication of "Lady Bird Johnson Grove" by President Nixon, August 27, 1969. (L-R: Former President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson, Mrs. Patrica Nixon, President Richard M. Nixon). (William S. Keller photo)

If a larger national park could have been acquired earlier in the twentieth century, or even in the late nineteenth century, it would not resemble the present boundaries of RNSP and it would probably be in a different part of the Redwood Belt. Almost certainly, the park would be closer to large population centers in San Francisco and Sacramento, and it likely would have included the towering groves that once covered good stretches of southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties. If such a park had been established, it almost certainly would not have a watershed rehabilitation program nor would it need to depend so much on the cooperation of private timber companies near its boundaries. As it is, the location, shape, and content of RNSP reflects the historical contexts from which the parks came. To look at a color-coded resource management map of the parks is to take in a dizzying array of shapes and colors that correspond to various forest types, the location and date of past clear-cuts, the rate and type of regrowth in these previously cutover areas, the consequences of past land-use regimes, the strategies associated with their current management, the ecological conditions and properties of nonforested areas, and a host of other environmental and administrative concerns. The result is a crazy-quilt pattern more colorful and more varied than most urban zoning maps—let alone other national parks.

Detail of land description map: Redwood Creek Ground Disturbance and Erosional Landforms (May 1980). The sixteen different patterned color blocks on this map of the lower Redwood Creek basin correspond to a particular environmental condition. These include “Old Growth Stands,” “Older Cut Units with Dense Regrowth,” a number of recently tractor-yarded units on steep or moderate slopes with varying degrees of erosion and regrowth, “Highly Erodible Units,” “Prairie Grasslands,” and “Active Earthflows.” (RNSP Library)


The history of RNSP has also been shaped by its distinct geology. Northwestern California is tectonically active, with a relatively high frequency of earthquakes. Three tectonic plates--the North American, Pacific, and Gorda--converge just 100 miles southwest of and a number of active faults run through the park. While some smaller faults run in an east-west pattern, the shifting forces of the tectonic plates have created deep folds and significant faults in the geologically young Coast Range Mountains that run predominantly north-northwest. These are most clearly seen in the courses of the major waterways, which all cut northwesterly as they follow the fault-lines that run through the region. The geology of the area has also given the coastal rivers of northern Humboldt County, including Redwood Creek, remarkably high natural erosion rates. Composed mostly of material from the Franciscan Assemblage, a combination of sandstones, siltstones, and shales that formed on the ocean floor during the Cretaceous Period (144 to 65 Ma), the underlying soil structure of the region is generally unstable. Weakened and deformed by the uplift and folding processes that created the Coast Range, the soils on the steep sloped mountainsides are highly erodible—especially in an area that averages 70 inches of rainfall per year.13

The steep slopes and relatively narrow bottoms of Redwood Creek, along with the area’s distance from central lumber markets, largely explains why much of the watershed remained uncut in the decades prior to the creation of Redwood National Park in 1968. The highly erodible nature of the drainage system, which was especially vulnerable to the effects of industrial logging, also provided the basic rationale for expansion in 1978 and the subsequent emphasis on watershed rehabilitation. Further north from Redwood Creek, however, different conditions reflect a different history. The geological underpinnings of the North Coast are essentially the same, but the topography of the three state parks is less steep and thus less erodible than the national park lands. Most of the old-growth forest in the state parks is located on bench lands between the coastal strip and mountains. These conditions proved ideal for the kind of level, park-like groves that conservationists most treasured when the parks were first established in the 1920s and which tourists have most sought out since. Except for logging in the recently acquired Mill Creek drainage, these areas generally are not subject to the kind of upstream erosion that threatened Redwood National Park—and so, California Department of Parks and Recreation and National Park Service management of these heavily visited areas has largely been focused on preservation, interpretation, and access rather than on restoration and other forms of active resource management.

Looking up through the redwoods, Redwood National and State Parks, 2015. (NPS photo)

Although not in the same manner or magnitude as tectonic processes, pronounced social and political changes have also played an important role in the formation and management of RNSP. This is especially true of the decades since the establishment of Redwood National Park in 1968. The national park was created during a high-water period of environmental legislation that largely continued through to the 1978 park expansion. The founding principles of park management, which emphasize resource protection and science-based management over access and recreational use, have largely reflected the environmentalist concerns of that era. Park expansion also came during a high point in congressional outlays for the acquisition of parks and other lands for public use. However, most of the post-expansion era has been marked by a fiscal tightening in Washington that has often been allied to a more general effort to weaken or “roll back” the environmental legislation of the 1960s and 1970s. Recent policies that encourage federal agencies to accomplish more with less by partnering with other public and private entities have also shaped park management and proven an important strategy for effecting the park’s original mandates amid chronic budget restraints.

Of course, RNSP is much more than the sum of a simple equation that includes trees, logging, property, geology, environmentalism, and politics. The establishment of any national park is the result or consequence of preexisting conditions, but it is also fundamentally a creative act that imposes new order on the landscape. Likewise, national park administration may often seem like a long rearguard reaction to external threats and internal bureaucratic structures, but it too is a creative process that shapes the resources it manages. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than at Redwood, where the need to address such a wide array of underlying and external conditions, and the many conflicting values they have engendered, has often put Redwood at the forefront of new trends in resource and public lands management—from the creation of the first substantial state parks in the United States in the early twentieth century to the formation of a precedent-setting watershed rehabilitation project and, later, to a new model for cooperative management with the formation of Redwood National and State Parks in 1994.

The creative acts and processes that shape RNSP, as well as the contexts and limits within which they occur, provide the necessary focus for this and most any other administrative history. Like all units of the national park system, the administration of RNSP has reflected the internal conditions and external contexts of the park. And like all parks, the history of RNSP has been shaped by the dynamic arrangement and interaction of many different factors, including the timing of the park’s creation and subsequent expansion, the political, economic, geographic, and social contexts of its management, the nature of the resource it protects, and the competing concerns of interested or affected agencies, groups, and individuals. The particular constitution and correlation of these subjects largely defines the history of any park, but in the case of Redwood, the combinations have been especially acute and dramatic in the parks’ relatively brief existence.

1 United Nations Environmental Programme–World Conservation Monitoring Centre Protected Areas Programme, Redwood National Park, August 12,1982, reviewed May 1990 and July 1995, (accessed April 6, 2007); and “Coastal Redwood National and State Parks” and “Redwood Creek”; both in Save-the-Redwoods League and Bureau of Land Management, North Coastal California: A Stewardship Report, November 2001, (accessed October 27, 2007). Although not as long as the coastal portion of Olympic National Park, which runs about 73 miles, nor as extensive and undeveloped as the 35-mile stretch of coast in the King Range Wilderness area of southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties, the protected shore areas of RNSP remain a critical component of the park complex and represent one of the longest stretches of protected coastline in the lower forty-eight states.

2 “RNSP Species List,”; and “Threatened and Endangered Species,” (both accessed October 19, 2008).

3 Save-the-Redwoods League, “Memorial Grove List.”

           Text from Watershed Park: Administrative History Redwood National and State Parks,
Mark David Spence, 2011

Rhododendron, coast redwoods, and summer fog along Mill Creek in Redwood National and State Parks. (NPS photo)

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