Caring for Giants

Ashley Bishel

The project was as pressing as it was daunting. Mariposa Grove’s 500-plus mature sequoia trees—one of the largest species on the planet—stretch more than 250 feet (76 meters) in the sky, with some trunks topping 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter. The oldest are estimated to be nearly 2,000 years old, with a life span of 3,000-plus years. And, each year, more than 3 million tourists flock from all over the world to Yosemite National Park, California, USA, to crane their necks at the cinnamoncolored skyscrapers.

Yet the aging infrastructure that made those tourist visits possible—a paved parking lot, road, tram trail and gift shop— threatened the trees’ longevity. “The sequoias were growing right up to the edge of the asphalt road, and the tram tours were having a hard time getting around the trees,” says Sue Beatty, deputy project manager and restoration ecologist on the project who recently retired from the National Park Service, Mariposa, California, USA. Asphalt interfered with the grove’s natural hydrology, and so much vehicular traffic was causing severe soil compaction and erosion.

To ensure the sequoias had a fighting chance at surviving another 1,000 years, in 2012 the Yosemite National Park service launched a US$40 million project to relocate the parking lot, remove the tourist tram and gift shop, and add …

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