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Untold story of the original effort to preserve Big Basin shared in new book

On the heels of the 1-year anniversary of the CZU Lightning Complex Fires, “Big Basin Redwood Forest, California’s Oldest State Park,” shares the true story of a conservation victory for the ages while raising funds to support the fire recovery effort at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Inspired by a story shared by her great-great-aunt six decades ago during a family outing at Big Basin, local author Traci Bliss spent more than a decade meticulously researching the untold story of a herculean effort to preserve the ancient redwoods for future generations, including the essential role women played in preserving the forest as a park.

“Jennie Bliss Jeter, my great-great-aunt who settled in Santa Cruz in the 1870s, inspired me when I was a young girl. I am the fifth generation of Blisses to live in Santa Cruz,” Bliss told the San Mateo Daily Journal recently.

We were on a family outing to the park, celebrating her 98th birthday, when she told us about the indispensable role of women in creating the park. Much later I discovered that in almost all the writing about Big Basin, women had been sidelined.

— Traci Bliss

Big Basin Redwood Forest, California’s Oldest State Park shares the epic saga of Big Basin, which began in the late 1800s when the surrounding communities saw their once “inexhaustible” redwood forests vanishing. Expanding railways demanded timber as they crisscrossed the nation. But the more redwoods that fell to the woodman’s axe, the greater the effects on the local climate. California’s groundbreaking environmental movement attracted individuals from every walk of life. From the adopted son of a robber baron to a bohemian woman winemaker to a Jesuit priest, resilient campaigners produced an unparalleled model of citizen action.

“The decade-long study continued to reveal rich new layers about the men and women who never gave up, many of whom received little if any recognition for creating California’s first permanent state park,” Bliss wrote in the preface. “They came together to do what no one else in the country had done before, not only because they loved the redwood forests but also because of their innate humanity.”

Bliss, a Stanford-educated, award-winning education professor emerita and former state policy advisor to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, has co-authored two previous books that include the underreported role of women in environmental history and community building in Santa Cruz County. .

While rooted in the turn of the 20th century, “Big Basin Redwood Forest, California’s Oldest State Park” features a foreword by California State Parks Historian Martin Rizzo-Martínez and Mark Hylkema, supervisor of the California State Parks Cultural Resources Program that explores the history of native people in the region, including the Cotoni who inhabited the Big Basin area for centuries. Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks Executive Director Bonny Hawley authored the introduction.

The early preservationists endured one challenge after another over decades, with persistence and unselfish devotion. Their inspiring story could not be better timed.

— Bonny Hawley, Executive Director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks

The epilogue focuses on the CZU Lightning Complex Fire and provides a detailed account of the courage and dedication of several park employees during the fire and afterward. Author Bliss describes the first-person accounts as “…what has characterized Big Basin from the beginning: resilient commitment.”

“The work to reimagine and reestablish Big Basin will be a grassroots effort, just like the park’s founding,” said Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz District Superintendent for California State Parks. “As we engage the community, we’re going to need the historical perspective and inspiration this new book so clearly provides.”

The book is available on the Friends website and ParkStores at Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park, Natural Bridges State Beach and Seacliff State Beach. Proceeds benefit the Big Basin Redwoods State Park fire recovery effort.

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