Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park A Biophysical & Cultural Overview


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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park A Biophysical & Cultural Overview

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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park A Biophysical & Cultural Overview

  1. 1. Sample Excerpt: Research Paper Tristan Howard 1 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park: A Biophysical & Cultural Overview HISTORY The history of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (PCRSP) ranges from exploitation to conservation. Key aspects of park history are: Native Americans, gold mining, logging, and environmental preservation. Native Americans The original human inhabitants of the PCRSP area were North Coast Native Americans. For instance, the Yurok tribe used the area (Rogers 1965). The Yuroks lived near the Klamath River and the coast. They were hunter-gatherers, had concepts of land ownership, and used payment- based laws (Rohde and Rohde 1994). Some of the Yuroks’ main foods were salmon and acorns. Yuroks employed various methods to harvest salmon, including the use of harpoons and dip nets (Rohde and Rohde 1994). In their Redwood National and State Parks guidebook, the Rohdes illustrate the effectiveness of dip netting by stating that: “a single night’s dip netting sometimes garnered as many as a hundred fish, which would constitute an entire winter’s salmon supply” (1994, 32). Yuroks also gathered acorns, which they peeled, ground, and cooked with hot rocks and cooking baskets. Yurok men hunted game, such as elk and deer, and women and children gathered items like nuts, berries, and roots (Rohde and Rohde 1994). The abundance of food resources in Yurok lands contributed to Yurok concepts of land ownership. The Rohdes describe how these concepts worked: “The Yuroks were very precise in manners of property rights and general law. Unlike most Native American tribes, a Yurok individual or family ‘owned’ a piece of land; of these parcels, fishing places were the most important . . .” (1994, 33). Yuroks also used payment-based laws with rules emphasizing compensation more than punishment. Pricing, which depended on the crime committed, was complex, and rules were strict. Some statements by the Rohdes sum up Yurok payment rules: “An exact reparation was necessary and no excuses for any infraction were accepted. If an offender was unable to pay for a crime, he would often become ‘bound’ to his victim, compelled to serve as a virtual slave unless he was somehow able to acquire enough wealth to discharge his debt” (1994, 33). Yuroks even used compensatory payment in matters of love and war. For example, compensation payments were part of the resolution of a significant war Yurok and Hupa villages waged against each other in the 1830s. Payment also determined Yurok marriages (Rohde and Rohde 1994). The Rohdes describe what some modern-day people might consider a son-in-law’s nightmare: “Potential grooms had to purchase their brides from the woman’s parents, and if the would-be husband could not pay the full price, he often became ‘half-married,’ living with and working for his wife’s parents until he had paid off the balance” (1994, 34).
  2. 2. Sample Excerpt: Research Paper Tristan Howard 2 Unfortunately for the Yurok and other nearby tribes, the arrival of white settlers on the North Coast had long-lasting negative impacts. The Rohdes sum up these impacts: Many of the new arrivals saw the Indians as akin to the trees—obstacles to be removed from the path to profits and progress. A holocaust virtually hidden from history ensued: Native American men were often shot on sight, women raped and forced into long-term relationships, children sold as slaves legally or “indentured” to white families. Ranchers ran their stock on tribal hunting and gathering areas, while hydraulic mining debris clogged the streams and rendered them unfit for fish. Vigilantes attacked tribal villages, burning the buildings and massacring the inhabitants. The Indians who survived all this were forced onto reservations, places that at best were little more than prisons and at worst resembled concentration camps. (1994, 25-26) Indeed, the arrival of invading white settlers had dramatic impacts not only for North Coast natives but also for northwestern California’s entire coastal region. Gold Mining The discovery of gold in the Trinity Mountains was one of the original reasons for white settlement in coastal areas near PCRSP. People explored the coast to find a more direct route to Trinity gold mines (CDPR 1985). This exploration led to the first whites investigating the coast north of Trinidad in1850 (Rohde and Rohde 1994). Gold was soon discovered at Gold Bluffs Beach in May 1850, and locals frenzied toward the discovery (CDPR 1985; Rohde and Rohde 1994). From 1850 to the 1880s, gold mining operations took place at PCRSP’s bluffs but weren’t highly successful (CDPR 1985). Gold was fine-grained and contained within black sands that were only available when dislodged by ocean waves hitting the bluffs. The ocean used to come much closer to the bluffs than it does today. Once the tide went out, miners would gather sand, haul it away with mules, and wash it through sluice boxes to separate out the gold (Rohde and Rohde 1994). Thus, mining the bluffs was somewhat complicated and laborious. Despite complications and labor demands, the inconvenience of mining at Gold Bluffs Beach did not prevent innovative mining operations. Weiler’s interpretive prospectus for PCRSP gives details on one such operation: “In 1872 an enterprising miner organized the Gold Bluffs Submarine Mining Company to bring up gold-bearing sands from the ocean floor. However, this operation failed after a short time because of the almost total lack of gold in these offshore deposits of sand and gravel” (CDPR 1985, 14). Logging As mining activity diminished, the logging industry grew in the PCRSP region. Between 1850 and 1855, many lumber mills were established near Humboldt Bay. Soon, the popularity of milled redwood was discovered, and that fundamentally altered Humboldt County’s timber industry. The discovery contributed to the development of new logging technologies, which allowed profitable harvest of the massive redwoods (CDPR 1985).
  3. 3. Sample Excerpt: Research Paper Tristan Howard 3 Lumber companies built skid roads and developed their own railroads. They also lifted redwood logs with a powerful winching machine invented in 1881: the steam donkey. Furthermore, lumber companies exploited the 1862 Homestead Act and the 1878 Timber and Stone Act to obtain vast tracts of land (CDPR 1985). Weiler describes the timber industry’s shady tactics by stating: “some single owners dishonestly acquired many thousands of acres in 160-acre parcels by paying bogus ‘homesteaders’ to patent the land” (CDPR 1985, 16). Eventually, timberland ownership in the PCRSP area became heavily concentrated. By the 1930s, a few eastern companies largely owned the area’s redwood forests. These companies held much of the land in an un-logged state for speculation. Eastern companies’ hesitation to cut trees is one reason so much intact redwood forest survives in PCRSP (CDPR 1985). Environmental Preservation Environmental preservation efforts were also greatly responsible for the survival of intact old growth redwoods in the park. By the late 1800s, conservation groups and women’s clubs were growing more organized and also becoming more concerned about the clear-cutting and widespread logging of redwood forests. Eventually, groups sought protection for the coast redwoods. One especially important group was the Save-the-Redwoods-League, which conservationists founded in San Francisco in 1918 (CDPR 1985). Weiler’s interpretive prospectus for PCRSP explains some of the league’s efforts. The League . . . worked out a strategy for acquisition by which the state would put up matching funds for League donations. The League conducted . . . private automobile tours of the redwood forests for wealthy potential benefactors, developed the memorial grove program, and cultivated support within the State Legislature for saving the redwoods. (CDPR 1985, 19) Many of the league’s efforts proved successful, and I’ve learned from hiking in PCRSP that there are many memorial groves dedicated to generous benefactors. PCRSP was established in 1923 with its first piece of land being a 65-hectare (160-acre) parcel donated by the Joseph Russ family (NPS 1987). More land from both private benefactors and the federal government was added to the park in the 1930s. Over the years, PCRSP increased to its present size of 5,666 hectares (14,000 acres) with the help of conservation groups and many donations (CDPR 1985; CDPR). The PCRSP area gained even more protection when land near it became part of Redwood National Park in 1968 (Dewitt 1982). Setting up PCRSP for environmental preservation involved more than just purchasing land. A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was set up at the park in 1933 (NPS 1987). The CCC was a government agency established during the Depression era to serve both conservation and employment purposes (Encarta Reference Library DVD 2005, s.v. “Civilian Conservation Corps”). In a vegetation study of Elk Prairie, Veirs describes jobs the CCC workers performed. “The CCC members removed old structures, built the present park headquarters, constructed trails, did planting and [did] ‘beautification’ work. Their work ushered in the beginning of the modern era for many parks, including Prairie Creek” (NPS 1987, 11).
  4. 4. Sample Excerpt: Research Paper Tristan Howard 4 References California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR). California State Parks: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. State of California. (accessed March 6, 2008). ——. 1985. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Interpretive Prospectus. By Joann Weiler. Sacramento. [govt. doc.] Dewitt, John B. 1982. California redwood parks and preserves: A guide to the redwood parks and a brief history of the efforts to save the redwoods. San Francisco: Save-the- Redwoods League. National Park Service (NPS). 1987. Vegetation Studies of Elk Prairie, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Humboldt County, California. By Stephen D. Veirs, Jr. Arcata. [govt. doc.] Rogers, Linda Louise Bishop. 1965. A History of the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Area. Barnum Competition Essays. Humboldt State University Library, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA. Rohde, Jerry, and Gisela Rohde. 1994. Redwood National & State Parks: Tales, trails, & auto tours. McKinleyville: MountainHome Books.