My husband said driving the same old way home from Oregon on Highway 5 was boring.

"Let's do the coast route and go see the redwood trees," he added.

So we did. It was a longer route, full of curves, but it was certainly worth it.

The 31-mile Avenue of the Giants, about 20 miles from Ferndale, is surrounded by the tallest and some of the oldest trees on Earth, and certainly the most magnificent.

The founders of the Save the Redwoods League -- John C. Merriam, Henry Fairfield Osborn and Madison Grant -- are remembered in a plaque at Founders Grove: "These influential naturalists convinced the Highway Commission not to bulldoze the grove you're standing in now. Their lasting legacy has been the preservation of ancient redwoods throughout California," reads the plaque.

Standing there that June day it was hard to believe these giants could have been obliterated. But in the early 1900s that was a danger.

The three men traveled from San Francisco to the redwoods in 1917 to investigate why Humboldt County conservationists had been raising alarms. Redwood groves that had stretched 450 miles from Monterey to the southern coast of Oregon in a 40-mile-wide swath were disappearing.

The destruction they saw inspired them to form the Save the Redwoods League, which continues its work to this day.

Grant, a New York lawyer and active member of the New York Zoological Society, wrote about the movement in the society's special bulletin in September 1919.


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"The Redwood is a beautiful, cheerful and very brave tree. Burned and hacked and butchered it sprouts up again with vitality truly amazing," he wrote.

Grant revisited the redwoods in 1919 and found the changes "sickening." More and more trees were being cut down.

"This example of human greed and waste can scarcely be described," he wrote, and the worst part was that trees were being cut down to make grape stakes. The redwood's indestructible character made it valuable.

Grant said that the tragedy of the redwood situation was that the groves were mostly in private hands. Owners could not be expected to sacrifice their holdings for public benefit.

"The state and nation, however foolish they may have been in giving away these lands must now buy back at least a large portion of them."

The campaign got a break in 1926 when the then-secretary of the league, Newton Drury, invited John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family to lunch in the redwoods. It must have been a delicious repast, because Rockefeller donated $1 million to buy the grove and later donated a second million.

The conservationists continued their campaign and in 1928 got a $6 million bond measure on the ballot to start the California State Parks system.

California voters overwhelmingly passed the measure.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.