There exists a new phenomenon in the redwood forest. It is an online compendium of photos, maps, descriptions and GPS coordinates of the very largest and tallest redwood trees. To a vast majority of tree enthusiasts, the publication of this information was a surprise akin to a swift kick to the privates. That’s because for almost two decades (since Steve Sillett and Michael Taylor discovered the Grove of Titans in 1998), the precise location of these tallest of trees — the tallest living things on earth — was a closely guarded secret.
But now, more than a dozen of these Titans — their details previously known to few — are, in effect, paraded around naked under the bright lights of the world wide web for every hiker, tree enthusiast, and casual tourist to Redwood National Park to see.
For many, this recent disclosure was an appalling violation of the gentleman’s agreement to limit public discourse involving the Grove’s location. Discussing ones visits to the Grove was nominally allowed, but to discuss their precise location and to reveal access points along trails in the forest or to post maps online was strictly, strictly verboten.
I’ve written about the Grove many times but have maintained radio silence on location, etc. I even let an early post that misidentified one of the Titans remain uncorrected. I have been (and will remain) a lesser facilitator to those who are interested in visiting the Grove of Titans. My reasoning isn’t exactly evolved. More like Hell if I’m going to be the one spilling the beans on the Titans. Not me. Not on my watch.
Additionally, after sleuthing out the Titans’ location on my own, I felt a tad smug knowing I was a member of the “club who knew” where the Titans were and by default, you weren’t.
But IMHO the constant chatter surrounding the Titans only ended up whetting the appetite of others. Over the years I paid occasional visits to the Grove I could tell that many careless and thoughtless hikers were really messing up as they sought out the Titans — with no clear directions or maps where the trees were, people on their quest to locate the Grove were walking every which way, trampling the ferns, breaking branches, damaging bark on downed trees, tamping down a spaghetti-bowl of pseudo-trails, compressing sensitive soil and remaining vegetation on the Titans’ lower trunks. To see the damage and to see it worsen over time was heartbreaking.
Then the data dump of sensitive information. The gates were flung open and every half-hiker with a couple of hours to spare could make their way to Hyperion or Iluvatar or Lost Monarch. What’s a tree-hugger to do?!
The argument for and against identifying the Grove and the locations of the various tallest redwoods is not something done casually around here. The debate over creating fixed trails to see these natural wonders, to control the random tramping and to create a system or protocol for observing the Grove isn’t something you read about in the local papers. Park rangers and local are still coy about revealing its location, reluctant about addressing the impact of increasing awareness.
For the time being the debate (if there is one) goes on in relative secrecy. (Although it really never took a brain surgeon to locate the Grove of Titans in the first place — I’ve had bnb guests read a few passages of The Wild Trees, spend an hour on groveoftitans.com, sift through various redwoods-related online forums and the next day find themselves staring into the handsome, hook-nose talon that is El Viejo del Norte’s lower trunk or tree-hugging the Howland Hill Giant or Screaming Titans.
Back to this new data dump of breadcrumbs that lead straight to the Titans and the impact the detailed maps have had on the Grove — you might ask is it cotton candy and carnival rides at the Grove of Titans now? Litter? Curio shops and drive-throughs? Valet parking?
On the contrary. While the narrow social trails through the Grove are more numerous and better defined (fully tamped down trails now, earthy and devoid of vegetation) the nearby ferns and other delicate plants appear less disturbed. It’s a mixed bag of ecological degradation and renewal and not too dissimilar to what goes on in other evolving parts of the forest (for reference, have a look at the new trails that have popped up around a giant redwood that fell in Stout Grove two winters ago). Our collective fears do not appear to have manifested in trail-side squalor or bumper-to-bumper bumpkins from the boonies.
I didn’t at all like seeing the small signage on the trail announcing the Grove (see photo below) but I don’t have all the answers — at minimum, the little signs might put hikers who already approach the forest with reverence and respect, as well as above-mentioned bumpkins, on higher alert. Nothing wrong with that.
A data-point of my own: Yesterday Meg and I were the only hikers in the Grove. We passed just seven other hikers on the main, two-mile trail that skirts the Grove. On a beautiful day in July only seven hikers on the trail and not one in the Grove? Time will tell if the Grove’s blown cover will result in overkill (literally), but my own anecdotal research, for now at least, suggests not.