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New documentary explores fire impacts, recovery process at Big Basin

The public can ‘visit’ Big Basin Redwoods State Park one year after the CZU Lightning Complex decimated the park through a new video and virtual tours.

A year after the devastating CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned through nearly all of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, park officials are providing an update on regrowth and recovery in California’s oldest state park through a short documentary and 3D virtual tours of six favorite locations within Big Basin.

Big Basin remains closed, with no water, power, sewer, phone or Internet services available. All the bridges in the park burned and falling trees are a major concern throughout the park. It is not safe for the public to visit.

“The regeneration process will be long,” said Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz District Superintendent for California State Parks. “It’s going to look very different here for a very, very long time. And it will not look like the same Big Basin that visitors remember, at least not in our lifetime.”

But there is good news to share.

Redwood shoots are sprouting from fire-damaged trees. In fact, scientists believe 9 out of 10 redwood trees will survive. Also, tan oaks, live oaks and madrones are sprouting back from their bases.

A top priority for park officials is to save every redwood possible. Instead of cutting down the larger, old growth trees to make areas of the park safer, tree inspectors are making careful assessments, tree by tree, searching for dangerous branches that can be cut off with the hope of saving more trees. Funded by Friends of Santa Cruz Parks, Boulder Creek-based Christianson Tree Experts has used specialized equipment, years of experience and a passion for the redwoods to save many trees, making a huge difference for Big Basin’s recovery.

Tree experts assessing damage at Big Basin state park.
Individual assessment of trees by experts is helping to save old-growth redwoods.

The creativity and labor needed to save Big Basin’s old growth redwoods has also included putting out still-smoldering fires high in the trees. Crews from California State Parks stake out specific trees that are still smoking, monitoring for embers and then running water lines up to the tree canopy to put out the fire.

The new documentary illustrates the dramatic changes within the park, weaving images from before the fire together with footage captured as flames tore through Big Basin. Photos and videos of the current state of the park shows progress on many fronts: debris removal, tree clean-up and natural regrowth that sparks hope for the future.

Regrowth at Big Basin
Scientists believe 9 out of 10 redwood trees will survive, but the recovery process for forest will be long.

The virtual tours offer people a 360-degree view of the park entrance on Highway 236, Blooms Creek Campground, Park Headquarters, the Campfire Center, the gift shop and museum, and the Skyline to Sea trailhead.

Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks collaborated with California State Parks to create the video and virtual tours since in-person visits to Big Basin aren’t safe at this time. The video and tours are also important tools for the public, as State Parks begins to engage with the community to reimagine the park. The video and tours are featured on the new Reimagining Big Basin website, as well as the Friends website.

“We hope the documentary and 3D virtual tours give those who love Big Basin a glimpse into the inspiring recovery process as well as an understanding of the long path we face to reopening the park,” Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks Executive Director Bonny Hawley said.

A small section of the Rancho Del Oso Unit, the coastal portion of Big Basin, reopened in May. But the path to recovery, regrowth and restoration of the main park will be lengthy. However, there is no reopening date for Big Basin at this time.

“The work ahead of us is significant and will be a labor of love,” Hawley said. “Through our unique position as co-management partners with State Parks, we first established the Friends Fire Fund and other immediate response resources that enabled us to provide direct assistance to fire survivors, support digital documentation of 75 buildings that were lost, save 15 old growth redwoods, and help repair a damaged roadway. We’re proud to build on that effort by co-producing and funding production of the documentary and 3D tours. Now, we look forward to supporting the effort spearheaded by California State Parks to involve the public to reimagine Big Basin.”


The establishment of Big Basin nearly 120 years ago marked the beginning of the preservation and conservation movement in California, and the park has provided the vision for hundreds of other state parks people enjoy today.

Earlier this month, California State Parks launched Reimagining Big Basin, an important tool to support the process for reestablishing the park. That process includes immediate recovery efforts, a planning effort to renew the vision for the park’s future, and long-term planning and implementation projects. Community engagement is essential to the Reimagining Big Basin effort.

“Together, we will create a vision for the future of Big Basin and guide the efforts necessary to reopen the park to the public,” Spohrer said.

Explore Big Basin state park
  • Experience Big Basin one year after the fire through 3D Virtual Tours, of the Entrance Road, Blooms Creek Campground, Park Headquarters, the Gift Shop, the Campfire Center and Lodge, and Skyline to the Sea Trailhead.