What do you do when a 240-foot-tall, 1,500-ton, 1,500-year-old tree falls and blocks a trail visited by thousands of tourists per week?
The USDA Forest Service found itself facing this very question on September 30, 2011 when a giant sequoia came tumbling down, blocking the popular Trail of 100 Giants in Giant Sequoia National Monument. And, instead of making such an important decision on its own, the Forest Service decided to let community members weigh in on the debate.
One option proposed by the Forest Service and community members is cutting a path through the tree, putting it alongside Yosemite’s famous, deceased Wawona Tree and Sequoia National Forest’s Tunnel Log. It would also allow visitors a rare educational experience — the ability to see tree rings documenting history that goes back to ancient Roman times. Environmental activists, however, vehemently oppose this idea and want the tree to remain untouched. Because of their size, fallen sequoias become a natural part of ecosystems, creating new habitat for animals and insects and allowing new plant growth.
Others have recommended moving the path so it bypasses the fallen tree, which is no small feat — both because the tree is 240 feet tall and because the trail was originally handicap accessible. Finding a new pathway around the tree that is level enough for handicap requirements might not be possible.
And don’t forget the proponents for going over the tree via a bridge or under it via a tunnel!
The Trail of 100 Giants reopened in late October with the Forest Service allowing visitors to see the fallen giant up close and climb on its trunk. As usual, the trail is closed throughout the winter months, while park officials consider the best way to preserve the tree and the visitor experience in the months and years to come.