Fire-damaged redwoods line either side of Highway 236 toward the entrance of Big Basin.
Fire-damaged redwoods line either side of Highway 236 toward the entrance of Big Basin.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A new steward: ‘Gateway to Big Basin’ property sold to conservation nonprofit

The Sempervirens Fund announced Tuesday it had completed the $2.4 million purchase of 153 acres along Highway 236 in Boulder Creek, with the aim of donating the land to California State Parks and speeding the reopening of fire-scarred Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

An expanse of forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains billed as the gateway to Big Basin Redwoods State Park is a step closer to opening for public use Tuesday after the nonprofit Sempervirens Fund announced it had completed its purchase of the 153-acre property.

“The Gateway to Big Basin is forever preserved and we have the community to thank,” Sempervirens Fund executive director Sara Barth said in a news release heralding the success of the organization’s $2.86 million fundraising campaign. “We had less than three weeks to raise the funding purchase and permanently preserve the Gateway to Big Basin and the community stepped up and made this happen.”

The Sempervirens Fund is closing in on a purchase of a 153-acre property near Big Basin Redwoods State Park — a...

The property along Highway 236 in Boulder Creek is familiar to anyone who has made the drive to Big Basin State Park, which remains closed after sustaining heavy damage during the CZU Complex fire in 2020. The so-called Gateway property, however, escaped similar damage, and California State Parks officials had already identified it as a place where Big Basin facilities could be relocated.

Barth told Lookout last month that the Sempervirens Fund aims to donate the Gateway acreage to the state.

“While the heart of Big Basin is going to be closed for a very, very long time and inaccessible, our hope is that this property can become the place where people can go — to visit in the next few years,” said Barth, who helped spearhead the fundraising campaign to manage the purchase. “This is going to be a catalyst to reopening Big Basin. That’s the hope.”

The campaign funded the purchase price of $2.415 million and includes $346,500 for stewardship programs to improve the health and resilience of the forest habitats on the property, per a Sempervirens release.

The nonprofit bought the property from Verve Coffee cofounder Colby Barr, who himself purchased it for $1.3 million less than two years ago from a man one county supervisor called “the King Tut of hoarders.”

The land includes the headwaters for Boulder Creek, which filters into the San Lorenzo Watershed, a source of drinking water to many thousands of customers; Barr said the topography of the Gateway’s basin shielded the land from the worst of the CZU blaze.

Barr reached out to the Sempervirens Fund for guidance following the 2020 fire, and has since put plenty of time and money into managing the land — not just cleaning things up, but also doing a thorough environmental analysis, funding road maintenance and clearing up confusion about the title, among a variety of figurative and literal messes that surrounded the property.

He told Lookout he had always planned to take good care of the land, and thought he might sell it to a conservation group someday, maybe 30 years in the future.

“Now, it’s just happening, two or three decades sooner than I anticipated,” Barr said. “Sometimes in life you just have to follow your instincts. This felt like one of those serendipitous moments.”

Preserve the Gateway to Big Basin! 153-acres of redwood forest along the entrance to Big Basin Redwoods State Park are at stake. We must act urgently to purchase and permanently protect the Gateway to Big Basin before January 31. Learn more: Footage: Jordan Plotsky