Native California Indians
Yurok people have lived in and around today’s Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park for generations. The temperate climate and abundant wildlife of the North Coast promoted a culturally rich way of life that continues today. Yurok people built villages of redwood planks along major waterways. Traveling by dugout canoe, they fished for salmon. They also gathered plants and hunted elk, deer, and other small game.
When gold was found near today’s Fern Canyon in 1850, the Yurok people were overwhelmed by an influx of settlers. Conflict over the land took many forms. The Native people were hunted down; any who survived the attacks were forced onto reservations. Newly introduced diseases further decimated their numbers.
Today the Yurok have made a remarkable recovery. As the most populous tribe in California, nearly 5,500 Yurok live in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Tribal members are building a future by revitalizing their ancestral language and traditions based on customs of the past.
Settling the North Coast
The first marine explorers along the Humboldt–Del Norte coast were Spaniard Bartolome Ferrelo in 1543, Englishman Sir Francis Drake in 1570, and Spaniard Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602. The first shore landing, near Trinidad Head, was by Bruno Hezeta and Juan Bodega in 1775.
In May 1850, miners crossing today’s Gold Bluffs Beach saw bits of gold in the sand. Removing the gold proved too laborious, so the prospectors moved on. New settlers needed rawmaterials for building their homes and towns. By the 1890s, several short-line railroads and steam donkeys had helped create a boom in commercial logging. Lumber quickly became the West’s top industry—Eureka alone had nine sawmills.
By the end of the 19th century, farms, ranches and dairies had been developed along the North Coast. Today, several of these historical dairies remain a vital part of the North Coast’s economy.
Conservation and State Parks
Between 1880 and the early 1900s, logging denuded thousands of acres of what were once old-growth redwoods. Alarmed conservationists established Save the Redwoods League to protect redwood groves in 1918. The League and the State of California were able to buy thousands of acres adjoining Prairie Creek. By 1923, some of the grandest old-growth stands on the planet had been acquired by the State.
A national work program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began during the Great Depression of the 1930s. CCC members camped at Elk Prairie while building Prairie Creek’s visitor center, trail system, campground, and picnic facilities.
Redwood National and State Parks
In October 1968, the National Park Service created Redwood National Park in Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
On September 5, 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks as a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
In 1994, NPS and California State Parks agreed to co-manage four parks: Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Both entities agreed that managing the parks together would ensure commitment to greater protection and preservation of more than 105,000 acres of coast redwood forest.