A Giant Fell

Posted by Speakeasy News > Thursday 02 February 2017 > In the News

The iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree, a giant sequoia tree with a tunnel carved through its base, fell on Sunday 8 January during heavy rains. The tree’s home was in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 100 miles southeast of Sacramento, California.

The giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) can grow taller than 100 yards, or more than the length of a football field. Sequoias can measure 33 feet (10.1 meters) in diameter. They are the tallest and most voluminous trees in the world.

The exact age of this tree is unknown but sequoias can live almost 3,000 years. The trees at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, are estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,000 years old.

The Pioneer Cabin was one of the state's famous "tunnel trees", large living sequoia and redwood trees with man-made passages carved through their bases.

Pioneer's Cabin - near view, diameter 32 feet, Mammoth Grove, Calaveras County © Library of Congress

Its trunk was hollowed out to compete with similar trees in Yosemite National Park.

Tunnel trees were created in the 1800s to promote parks and tourism and became very popular tourists attractions. They drew thousands of visitors every year.

At first, only hikers passed through the Pioneer Cabin Tree. Then cars, once they were invented, were allowed. Vintage postcards depicted cars traveling through its opening. But more recently, passage was again limited to pedestrians only.

Horses and carriage, carrying passengers, passing through a huge opening in a tree trunk; sign on tree, "Pioneers cabin, diameter 32 feet". - © Library of Congress

A few trees from that time remain. The Wawona tree, in the Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park, was cut open in 1881. It fell down during a winter storm in 1969 and has been known as the Fallen Tunnel Tree since then.

The only giant sequoias in national or state parks through which visitors can drive are on their sides. There are three standing "tunnel" coastal redwoods operated by private companies in California. One appeared in a recent Geico ad.

Carving a giant tunnel through a living organism can damage it and weaken its structure. That’s perhaps why the tree fell during this storm.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park became a State Park in 1931 to preserve the North Grove of giant sequoias.

Environmental protection is considered a common cause by today’s standards, but it was a new concept in the early years of the United States. In the 1800s, inspired after their travels throughout the U.S., many individuals started to advocate and lobby for the government to create national parks.

The world's first national park system began with the 1864 designation of the Yosemite area in California and the 1872 designation of the Yellowstone area in Wyoming to the Department of the Interior. Yellowstone was the world's first area to be officially designated as a national park, but the National Park Service was not established until 1916.

On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law to create the National Park Service, a new entity for the specific purpose of caring or these special places. This brought 36 national parks, monuments and reservations under one federal agency.

The National Park Service was given the responsibility to only not conserve and protect parks, but also to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

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