Challenge of the Big Trees
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Chapter Four:
Parks and Forests: Protection Begins


Park Development Begins

Many of the businessmen of Tulare County shared Lieutenant Clark's concerns. If the parks could be developed for tourism, many Visalia residents believed, they would begin to make a significant contribution to the economy of Tulare County. Finally several Visalians took the matter into their own hands. During the same summer that Lieutenant Clark superintended the two parks, beginning on July 5, a party of thirteen, organized by Ben Maddox, editor of Visalia's Tulare County Times and founder of the new Visalia Board of Trade, visited Mineral King, Kern Canyon, Mt. Whitney, and Giant Forest. Members of the party included local Congressman J. C. Needham and representatives of the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. The effort paid off. The Sundry Civil Appropriations Act of June 6, 1900, included $10,000 for the protection and improvement of Sequoia National Park. [54] The new fiscal year began July 1, and on July 16 rehabilitation work of the Colony Mill Road began. Six weeks later, with the road open for wagons to Colony Mill for the first time since the early 1890s, work began on extending the road toward Giant Forest. On September 15, Acting Superintendent Frank West, a captain in the Ninth Cavalry, reported that a route had been surveyed all the way to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow in the Giant Forest. The same act that gave Sequoia road money also appropriated $2,500 to build an eight-mile-long fence around General Grant National Park. That work began September 8. Encouraged by the appropriation, Captain West recommended an additional $21,000 of improvements which he thought productive. He also recommended that two civilian forest rangers be employed to protect the parks during the off-season. [55]

West's suggestion regarding civilian rangers had some precedent. An ineffective civilian guard named George Langenberg had been appointed to protect the parks during the summer of 1898, but had accomplished little despite help from several assistants. [56] During the troublesome year of 1898, Sequoia Park had received useful help from GLO/Forest Reserve Ranger Ernest Britten. [57] In December 1899, after a good deal of lobbying for the new position, Ranger Britten resigned from the Sierra Forest Reserve and assumed the position of forest ranger for Sequoia and General Grant national parks. [58] Late in January 1900, Britten reported that he was in Three Rivers and on duty. He had been delayed, he recounted, because he had to build a house so that he could live in the vicinity. [59]

Britten looked after the parks until West's troops arrived, and West was impressed enough with Britten's work that he kept him on duty throughout the summer of 1900 and recommended at the end of the summer that Britten be retained permanently to protect the parks in the winter and to assist the army during the summer. [60] West had several good reasons to believe that the parks needed all-year protection. The rehabilitation of the Colony Mill Road meant that for the first time the government actually had made improvements in the parks that would require care during the rainy season. Also, appropriations had allowed trail-building to start. If the army was only going to be in the parks during the summer, which seemed logical to West and his military successors, someone else needed to watch over the parks for the other eight months of the year. Sequoia and General Grant national parks had their first real ranger.

Over the next several years, the Department of the Interior authorized and supported development of a small but permanent civilian ranger corps. In the fall of 1901, Captain L. C. Andrews, acting superintendent of the two parks, issued winter instructions for the two rangers remaining on duty. The rangers were to protect the Colony Mill Road from damage by winter rains, work on three new trails, maintain control of the parks' tools and equipment, put up trail signs, and in their spare time clear brush from existing trails. Captain Andrews ended the document by expressing some frustrations with the condition of the parks:

The rangers will habitually work together, especially on trail and road work. It is desired that main trails be straightened and widened and made trails, instead of rambling cow paths as at present, and that attention will be paid to brushing out overhead and on the sides, as well as making a good trail bed. It is assumed that my successor will be able to ride main trails next season without being brushed from the saddle, or traveling 5 miles unnecessarily in order to go 2 miles. [61]

Certainly, those early rangers had plenty to keep them busy.

The impetus to develop the two parks came from business interests in Tulare County, and those interests soon found ways to exploit the new situation. The packers for the 1899 Visalia Board of Trade party that took Congressman Needham to Mt. Whitney were a Three Rivers partnership known as Broder and Hopping. John Broder and Ralph Hopping both operated ranches in the lower Kaweah River canyons, and like most ranchers of the time, they looked beyond their ranches for possible cash income. During the summer of 1898, operating out of Hopping's ranch at Redstone Park on the North Fork of the Kaweah, the two ranchers organized a packing business for tourists. At Redstone Park they established a simple tent hotel to serve as a way station for their pack train tours to the Big Trees. They also initiated a stage line between Visalia and Redstone. Considering the problems of Sequoia Park that summer, it is not surprising that they were involved in the Visalia Board of Trade lobbying effort of the following year. And it is equally unsurprising that in the same year that the army rehabilitated the Colony Mill Road and committed itself to construction of a wagon road into the Giant Forest, Broder and Hopping opened a tent hotel in Giant Forest. They called the new resort "Camp Sierra," and it was operated by Hopping and his wife while Broder continued to look after their Redstone Park facility. As soon as the road was passable, even to Colony Mill, Broder also started a stage line into the mountains. [62] During 1901 Ranger Britten received an application from another local enterprise, Ellis and Sons, to operate a stage from Visalia to General Grant Grove, using the Stephens Grade, which had been extended into General Grant National Park several years earlier. Britten recommended that General Grant, too, be opened for commercial activity. [63]

General Grant tree
Active military protection of individual Big Trees like General Grant began shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century. (National Park Service photo)

The progress that began during the summer of 1900 with the first annual appropriations for the development of Sequoia and General Grant national parks accelerated during the remainder of the first decade of the new century. For a number of years annual appropriations held firm at $10,000 for Sequoia and $2,500 for General Grant. While these sums were not large, they had considerable purchasing power in a world where a full day's labor could be purchased for several dollars. In Sequoia, work continued on the Giant Forest extension of the Colony Mill Road. By the end of 1901 the road had been extended to the Marble Fork Crossing and a wagon bridge constructed across the river. In 1903, the army completed the road to Round Meadow and Moro Rock. On August 15, 1903, Acting Superintendent Charles Young celebrated completion of the project with a picnic beneath the Big Trees. During that same summer Young, at that time the only black holding a regular commission in the U.S. Army, also obtained options to purchase most private lands within the two parks at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, Congress appropriated no funds for the purchases, and the options expired. [64]

Once the Giant Forest Road was in place, a network of well-graded trails was extended across Sequoia Park. Included in these early trails were the Alta Trail, connecting Giant Forest with Alta Meadow; the Seven Mile Hill Trail, leading from near Alta Meadow to Redwood Meadow and the Mineral King country; and the Black Oak Trail, which opened the northwest portions of Sequoia Park. By 1907 the summer community at Giant Forest had grown large enough to warrant the opening of a post office and the stringing of a single-wire telephone line connecting Giant Forest with Three Rivers. During these productive years, protection of Sequoia Park continued largely in the hands of the army during the summer, although the Department of the Interior maintained three rangers on full-time duty. At General Grant, once the surrounding fence was complete, protection fell mostly to Ranger L. L. Davis, who lived in the park throughout the year.

As the two parks passed through their second decade of existence, the nature of the protection they required shifted. After the turn of the century, trespass grazing by large herds of unregulated cattle or sheep largely ceased to be a problem, but with the opening of the parks to stage transportation and rental accommodations, people problems began to occur, including illegal hunting and camp sanitation. Fire suppression also rose in importance, a result again of the rising use of the parks.

During the summer of 1907 some 1,100 persons visited General Grant National Park while another 900 entered Sequoia. [65] Although their numbers were still small, the impact of these visitors was locally substantial. Many came to the parks to escape the summer heat of the San Joaquin Valley, and families commonly camped in the forest for two months or more. As a result, camp sanitation eventually required construction of formal latrines. Meadows near camping areas, like Giant Forest's Round Meadow, took a heavy beating from grazing draft and saddle animals, and here, too, the government had to intervene with grazing rules.


Challenge of the Big Trees
©1990, Sequoia Natural History Association
dilsaver-tweed/chap4h.htm — 12-Jul-2004