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 became threatened by a project that would widen and realign Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park when the California Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration 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. This highway-widening project threatened 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.
But after years of fighting the project by the Center, local American Indians, other environmental organizations and community members, which legally challenged the project’s approval by Caltrans — on both the state and federal level — we defeated the project ... at least for now. In December 2014, Caltrans rescinded its approvals for the Richardson Grove highway-widening project and the Center and allies dismissed a lawsuit we filed in federal court in July in exchange for Caltrans abandoning its project approvals and agreeing to restart the environmental review if it did pursue the project. Caltrans was prohibited from any project construction activities by both a 2012 federal court injunction and a state court order.
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.