Signs along Highway 101 north of San Francisco repeatedly tell drivers they’re traveling the “Redwood Highway” — but only at Richardson Grove State Park, just north of the Humboldt County line, does the reason for that name finally become clear. At Richardson Grove, the highway narrows to a two-lane road winding between ancient redwood giants along the South Fork of the Eel River. These massive trees, rare remnants of the redwood forest that once blanketed the river valleys and hillsides of the Coast Range from southern Oregon to Big Sur, provide crucial habitat for old-growth-dependent species like the marbled murrelet. Vanishing salmon and steelhead still return to the park’s streams to spawn. And countless highway travelers can pinpoint Richardson Grove as the gateway to the redwoods — indeed, as the fabled “Redwood Curtain” itself.
All this is now threatened by a project that would widen and realign Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. The California Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration have approved a project that would slice through the root systems of the grove’s ancient trees, all in the name of bringing huge commercial trucks to the remote North Coast. Well-connected developers, seeing opportunities for more big-box stores and rural subdivisions in Humboldt County, desperately want those bigger trucks on the roads. Yet this highway-widening project threatens both the biological integrity and the iconic character of Richardson Grove — a state park that for years many people have taken for granted as protected from degradation.
The Center has joined with local American Indians, environmental organizations and community members in legally challenging the project’s approval by the California Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration — on both the state and federal level. And we won a key victory in March 2012, when a federal judge halted Caltrans’ plans for the project, citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods and ordering Caltrans to correct its errors and prepare a detailed new analysis that would consider potential harm to the roots of each individual redwood tree in the project’s path. The Center will keep fighting to make sure the Redwood Curtain isn’t sacrificed to big trucks and the big-box stores that would follow close behind.