Visitors to World's Tallest Tree Could Face $5K Fine and Jail

The tree, known as Hyperion, has been damaged by visitors who step on its base

National Park Service via AP

Tree enthusiasts who make the trek to the world's tallest tree deep in a Northern California forest will face a fine and possible jail time after park officials declared the remote area off-limits because of damage done by trampling visitors to the tree and surrounding forest, a park official said Monday.

The tree, a 380-foot (115-meter) coast redwood, is in a remote area of Redwood National Park and is not accessible by any trail. But that hasn't stopped scores of visitors from hiking to the tree, said Leonel Arguello, the park’s manager for natural resources.

Arguello said the tree, known as Hyperion, was “discovered” by two amateur naturalists in 2006. By 2010, visitors started trekking to see the tall, skinny redwood after bloggers, travel writers and others shared its exact location online. In 2019, Guinness World Records declared the tree, estimated to be between 600 and 800 years old, the tallest in the world.

Hikers have bushwhacked off-trail into dense vegetation to reach the tree, making many social trails. The tree has also been damaged by visitors who step on its base. The area around the tree no longer has ferns due to trampling, Arguello said.

“The social trails have grown in number, the amount of garbage has increased, there’s human waste that has been seen and as more people go up to this tree, they create more social trails and all of that is having damage impacts to the vegetation, to the soils and, and all of the garbage just sits out there,” he said.

The area has no cell phone reception and if someone were to get hurt, it would take a lot of time and resources to rescue that person. That, paired with the trampling of the tree's base and the forest, led officials to declare the area closed — and impose a $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail for those who hike there anyway, he said.

Arguello said that Hyperion visitors may be disappointed to realize the tree is not really that much to look at because, from its base, all they can see are branches.

“It’s tall, but it’s not really that impressive to look at from the base because you cannot see the top of the tree. All you can see are the branches of this tall, skinny tree,” Arguello said.

Park officials are encouraging people to visit Tall Trees Grove, where there are plenty of established trails and visitors have access to many imposing redwood trees.

“You can walk the grove and then go picnic by the creek and splash and swim in the water. You don’t have to scramble and bushwhack up to this tall, skinny tree that isn’t that impressive,” Arguello said.

For decades, a 153-acre piece of land near Big Basin State Park was filled with dozens of junk cars and mountains of trash. Santa Cruz County battled with the owner for years, and now the junk is gone and the land will get a new owner. NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to Sara Barth, executive director of the Sempervirens Fund -- a Los Altos nonprofit that has pledged to purchase the land and turn it into a park.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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