Europeans "discovered" the redwoods in 1769 when the Portola expedition which was exploring up the coast of California, first noted the redwood or "palo colorado" about forty miles south of Big Basin. On October 20, 1769, the party camped at the mouth of present-day Waddell Creek. Many had been ill, but by the end of their stay, all had miraculously recovered. They named the valley "Caņada de la Salud" which translated to Canyon of Health.
The Santa Cruz Mountains remained relatively unchanged from the time of the Portola expedition until the building boom caused by the Gold Rush. With the increasing demand for timber, William Waddell established a lumber mill at the confluence of the east and west forks of Waddell Creek in 1862. By 1884, there were twenty-eight sawmills in the Big Basin - San Lorenzo Valley region cutting 34 million board feet of lumber per year. By the end of this period, much of the Santa Cruz mountains were completely stripped of trees.
In the late 19th century, as lumbermen were poised to enter the Big Basin, there were isolated voices of protest against the total destruction of the virgin redwood forests. None were very successful until the Sempervirens Club was first proposed on May 1, 1900, at a meeting held at Stanford University. At this meeting Big Basin was first proposed as the site for the new park. An exploring party, which included Andrew Hill the driving force behind the movement, was selected to visit the area and report back to the group. They were so impressed by what they saw that before they left, they organized a group to work towards making Big Basin a public park. On May 19, 1900 the Sempervirens Club was formed at the party's camp at the base of Slippery Rock. A plaque there commemorates this occasion.
After almost a year of intense campaigning, a bill creating the California Redwood Park in Big Basin was signed by Governor Gage. By 1902, California did indeed have its state park. The State purchased 2500 acres of virgin redwood from the Big Basin Lumber Company and its owner, H.L. Middleton donated an additional 1300 acres of surrounding land. Unfortunately, before the park could open, a fire broke out at a sawmill near Waterman Gap and by the time that it was extinguished ten days later, it had burned over all of the new park except the present Redwood Trail area. This was in September, 1904, and it would take until 1911 for the park to completely recover.
For more information contact the Mountain Parks Foundation at 525 N. Big Trees Park Road in Felton, CA 95018 tel# (408) 335-3174