What would you do if you won a load of money?
Before hiking the Hiouchi Trail through the redwoods in Northern California, I have always been thrown by this perennial question. Now, finally, I have an answer. I'd dedicate a redwood grove to my family.
This trail, a delightful combination of river walk and redwoods ramble, parallels the west bank of the Smith River for two miles before turning at Mill Creek and continuing for approximately four more. Along its first mile, it passes several grove markers bearing the names of families and individuals.
I have seen similar signs dotting Highway 199 between Jedediah Smith State Park and Crescent City. Not until I encountered so many up close and in a row, however, did I start wondering. Can you still claim a grove these days? If so, what would one cost? And how big would it be?
I found the answers online, at the Save the Redwoods League website.
Grove dedication dates back to 1921, and it's not just a thing of the past. More than 1,000 redwoods groves have been gifted to the League over the years, and plenty are still available in 19 parks in Northern California. Most are two to five acres, with some as large as 10 acres. Single trees also are available for dedication.
Even without winning a lottery as big as the Mega Millions, I could afford a grove, because the cost begins at $25,000. The average range is higher — $45,000 to $75,000 — but still within the payout of a modest jackpot.
As a redwoods lover, I'd be thrilled knowing I was doing something good for these towering giants. The League uses the money raised through the dedication program to add redwoods land to the California state park system.
On a sad note: There's a Lisa Ferguson Grove along the Hiouchi Trail, and a lichen-coated bench just beyond the marker with a plaque commemorating the same Ms. Ferguson. The dedication calls her "a lovely sunshine child." Her dates: 1958-1977.
Born the same year as I was, she died so young. I, on the other hand, have been lucky enough to enjoy marriage, parenthood and plenty of adventure.
If I had died at her age, I never would have seen a redwood. It wasn't until I was 24 that I drove to the West Coast from New York and hugged my first sequoia sempervirens.
And here I was, still enjoying the world's tallest trees, via the Hiouchi Trail, which I hadn't discovered until 2013.
As for the trail itself, its forest beauty isn't the only attraction.
I stopped at one of the overlooks and watched mergansers and long-oared drift boats ride the remarkably green waters of the Smith River. This is an undammed waterway, rolling freely for more than 20 miles before pouring into the Pacific.
One website, hosted by a redwoods aficionado, characterizes the Hiouchi Trail as "uninteresting," implying it's not worth your time. It lacks dense stands of old growth, says this "expert," who recommends nearby Stout Grove, instead.
He fails to consider, however, other factors besides the sheer volume of mammoth trees. For example, the short loop through majestic Stout Grove doesn't offer much in the way of exercise. The same is true of Simpson-Reed, a grove right along Highway 199. Its trees are grand, but the trail is short — and very crowded for much of the year.
If you actually want to hike, the Hiouchi Trail is a winner, especially if you keep going once it reaches Mill Creek.
True, the trees may not be thickly concentrated, but it's not as if they are scrawny runts.
Some of the biggest grow along the Mill Creek bend, including one specimen that splits into four units of equally impressive height and girth. No matter how I pointed my camera, I couldn't bring all units of this amazing condominium tree into my lens.
In summer, a footbridge provides safe passage across Mill Creek, depositing you in Stout Grove. Hiking to this magnificent spot via the Hiouchi Trail is an appealing alternative to taking the bumpy dirt road that most people use to get there.
Here's how to find the trail: Driving toward Crescent City on Highway 199, you'll cross the Smith River about a half-mile past the entrance of Jedediah Smith State Park. Look for the trailhead on your left as soon as you get to the end of the bridge.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at email@example.com.