|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – June 2007
The world's tallest tree towers above a secret location deep within the lush, tangled backcountry of Redwood National Park. Determined to find this giant, our correspondent discovers something more incredible than he ever imagined.
|This article is featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2008.|
As Wheeler described the park's beginnings, I turned discreetly and scanned the steep, mazelike country upstream. Somewhere up there, Hyperion had been quietly holding forth for decades, while lesser trees hogged the limelight. The next day, we would try to find it.Paul Zahl's discovery attracted worldwide attention, including a National Geographic cover story. But the region's newfound fame would accelerate the economic decline of towns like Orick. In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill authorizing the acquisition of 58,000 acres for the creation of Redwood National Park. A decade later, Congress expanded the park by 48,000 acres, effectively forcing out most of the timber mills.
According to silviculturists, the area that became the park could have supported only two more years of logging before the harvestable timber was gone. But as 2,500 jobs vanished, the park and federal government became scapegoats.
In 1977, Orick loggers put their chain saws to an old-growth redwood log and carved out a nine-ton peanut, as a sarcastic gift for President Jimmy Carter, who had approved the park's expansion. They loaded the sculpture onto a truck and drove it to the White House with a sign reading, "It may be peanuts to you, but it's jobs to us." Carter's aides refused the hunk of wood, and it made the long trip back to Orick.
Over the next two decades, Orick's population dwindled, businesses shuttered, and lumber mills were eventually outnumbered by backwoods methadone labs. In 2000, the NPS outlawed camping on the beach south of town, exacerbating the bitter feelings. Park property has been targeted by pipe bombers and arsonists, and rangers have been threatened.
That night, we passed the peanut sculpture near the southern edge of town, lying in a yard near an abandoned hotel. Farther north, the Lumberjack Tavern beckoned, its neon sign depicting an axe-carrying logger eyeing a pink martini glass.
During boom times, locals apparently stood three and four deep at the bar. But on this night, maybe 15 patrons were inside, most drinking beer through thick beards. Bartender and owner Mark Rochester greeted us warmly. He wore a LIVESTRONG bracelet on one wrist, and a tattoo of a LIVESTRONG bracelet on the other wrist. Over his shoulder, the Commander-in-Chief peered at us from a picture hung behind the bar. I asked Rochester if he knew anything about Hyperion.
"That *#*&# tree!" he bellowed, setting down a pitcher of local microbrew in front of us. "Don't get me started!" Rochester had recently purchased the tavern, and was changing its name to Hawg Wild, to attract more bikers.
"The Park Service won't tell us where it is. They're sitting in their multimillion-dollar headquarters, made of redwood that they can cut down and we can't, and they don't want us to know where the tree is, even though we supposedly own it. And you know what? When the liberals get in power there's going to be even more rules."
Rochester popped a packaged chicken pie in the microwave, then came back over. "We had no decision in anything the Park Service has done," he said. "They have systematically choked the life out of this town."
As he grabbed a Budweiser for another patron, a woman waiting for her shot at the pool table came over to our end of the bar. "I got a different take on it," she said. "I'm pro-park, and I love trees. But I work at the mill. Sometimes it feels like working in a graveyard. But it pays the rent. And no, I don't know where that tree is."