Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County will partially reopen to the public on July 22 for the first time since a wildfire tore through its towering ancient groves nearly two years ago.

Closure of the popular summer destination was needed to hasten the recovery of the 18,000-acre tableau of meadows, steep canyons and redwoods that have inspired millions since California’s oldest park was founded in 1902.

“The changes to Big Basin are profound,” said California State Parks Santa Cruz District Superintendent Chris Spohrer in a statement, “but the forest is starting to recover and it’s amazing to witness.”

“We want to share the recovery process with visitors,” he added, “including the story of what happened, the status today and plans for reimagining the park.”

Sparked by lightning strikes, the CZU Lightning Complex fire roared through Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties in August 2020, killing one person and scorching more than 86,000 acres — including most of the park’s redwoods.

An estimated 1,500 of the park’s historic buildings — including its headquarters, lodge, nature museum, store, ranger station campgrounds and park residences — were damaged or destroyed.

The park, which normally attracts about 1 million visitors a year, is still without electricity, water, flush toilets, phone service or buildings.

The fire killed thousands of trees including Douglas firs. But the park’s main attractions — old-growth redwoods 300 feet tall and more than 1,000 years old — survived and continue to grow.

The partial reopening coincides with the reopening of Highway 236, the main thoroughfare through the park.

A day-use reservation system allows visitors to explore the popular Redwood Loop Trail, as well as 18 miles of fire roads approved for biking and hiking, officials said.

The Big Basin Day-Use Reservation system, which is being managed by the nonprofit Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, is available online or by phone at (831) 338-8867.

Pre-registration is required, officials said. Initially, 45 spots will be offered daily, with entry costing $6 plus a $2 reservation fee for daylong access to the park.

State Parks day-use passes and other park entry programs will be honored, including the recently expanded Golden Bear Park Pass, which provides free access to state parks for families receiving CalWORKS benefits.

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