In the year when the California State Parks System celebrates its sesquicentennial, Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California, celebrates the grand opening of its new Visitor Center and Museum.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation in collaboration with the Calaveras Big Trees Association will be combining the two celebrations in one big family-friendly event on May 24, 2014. Festivities begin at the Visitor Center at 11 am with the official opening ceremony and continue until 4 pm with guided walks, kid-friendly activities and various surprises.
15 years in the works, the new Visitor Center will cater to the approximately 200,000 visitors to Calaveras Big Trees State Park each year, with a stylish gift shop, plush seating area, interactive displays, museum and video viewing area. The new center also includes a room fashioned to resemble the lower portion of a giant sequoia, containing information on the life cycle and world-beating statistics of the trees that give the park its name.
The Grand Opening is a signature event in the year-long commemoration of the 1864 establishment of the first state park in the world by California State Parks. On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting 39,000 acres of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California. Never before had land been set aside to protect its natural state for the public to enjoy. This historic legislation was the beginning of not only the California State Park System, but the national park concept we understand today. This idea of preservation would eventually help Calaveras Big Trees State Park become a historic cornerstone of California’s park system.
Back in 1852, no one would believe Augustus T. Dowd, when he described the massive trees he had found while tracking a wounded grizzly in the wild, western Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. No surprise there when you consider they’re large enough to house an entirely separate ecosystem in their canopies. It took leading a group of men to the Calaveras North Grove so they could see for themselves, before general skepticism was replaced by amazement.
Gant sequoias or Sequoiadendron giganteum are the largest trees on earth and continue to amaze us to this day. Reaching heights of up to 325 feet and diameters of 33 feet, and living for more than 2000 years, these prehistoric trees soon became a major attraction. By the time Californians had voted to establish a state park system, Calaveras Big Trees was already being advocated for by the Calaveras Grove Association, inspired by the Sierra Club and Save the Redwoods League.
Located in two groves of mixed confer forest featuring ponderosa pines, sugar pines, incense cedars, white fir and pacific dogwoods, the giant sequoia stands are experienced up-close and personal at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Well-marked trails lead visitors on meandering paths through the forest with ample opportunity to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of this beautiful, natural landscape with its chattering Steller’s Jays and tiny Douglas Squirrels.
Year-round access to trails, camping and picnic sites offer plenty of opportunities to see the park in its seasonal changes. In winter, guided snowshoe tours and a warming hut with hot chocolate and cider make Calaveras Big Trees State Park an uber user-friendly destination. Summer gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy camping, playing in the Stanislaus River, wildlife and environmental seminars, events, live music and art.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park is just 4 miles northeast of Arnold, a popular mountain hamlet, located on the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway , which features some of the most dramatic and breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Other attractions nearby include the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum, open April through November, which creatively displays the history of the logging and lumber industry in the entire Sierra Nevada from before the Gold Rush in the 1800s to the present day. Situated next to the pretty little lake of White Pines with its children’s playground, picnic tables and beaches, the museum is also the trailhead to the Arnold Rim Trail which welcomes hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Local lodging is plentiful and includes the outstanding Arnold Black Bear Inn with its timber frame construction, gourmet guest meals and award winning service and events. Popular local restaurants range from the casual to the sophisticated and tend to feature local Calaveras wines or craft beers. Year-round festivals and events combined with diverse recreational opportunities combine to make Arnold a year-round mountain sports and cultural destination.
The Gold Country is home to 18 other California State Parks, the nearest of which are Columbia State Historic Park, in Columbia and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown to the south, and Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park in Pine Grove to the north. Other California State Parks in Gold Country include:
Auburn State Recreation Area, Auburn
California State Capitol Museum, Sacramento
California State Mining & Mineral Museum, Mariposa
California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento
Empire Mine State Historic Park, Grass Valley
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, Folsom
Folsom Power House State Historic Park, Folsom
Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park, Sacramento
Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park, Sacramento
Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, Nevada City
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, Coloma
Old Sacramento State Historic Park, Sacramento
South Yuba River State Park, Penn Valley
State Indian Museum State Historic Park, Sacramento
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, Sacramento