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California is trying to make the world’s tallest tree invisible. Now visitors face jail, fines

The Redwood National Park, seen on July 24, 2022, home to the old growth Coastal Redwoods, located near Crescent City, Calif. (Ralph Lauer/Zuma Press/TNS)

It sounds hard to hide the tallest tree in the world. But that’s exactly what officials at California’s Redwood National Park have been trying to do since 2006.

Now, the 380-foot tall redwood tree is officially off-limits. In a statement last week, the park wrote that any visitors caught near it could face six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

For 16 years, the park refused to publish the location of the tree in order to protect it. Officials feared that too many visitors to the site could damage it and the delicate ecology of its surrounding slopes.

The coast redwood (sequoia sempervirens) is estimated to be 600 to 800 years old. Named Hyperion after the Greek Titan god of heavenly light, it stands deep in the park and has no trails leading to it, but its internet fame has made it a frequent destination for thrill-seekers, travel bloggers and tree enthusiasts. People are fascinated by Hyperion’s size and secrecy. Over the years, it’s been the subject of hundreds of Reddit threads.

“Give me 7 million dollars and a plane, and I will find it,” said one user.

“It would be so epic to climb it and look out,” said another.

One disturbing comment reads: “Think of all the napkins we could make out of that thing! We have to find it!”

Given Hyperion’s off-trail location, hikers must walk through heavy vegetation and bushwhack in order to reach it, the statement says. This causes irreversible environmental damage. People leave trash, human waste, create secondary footpaths and trample the area around the tree. Some even bring drones or try to climb Hyperion. The result is degradation of the tree’s base and an unnatural lack of vegetation around it. Increased foot traffic also leads to soil compaction, damaging the tree’s shallow roots.

“A single visitor can make a drastic negative change to an environment,” the statement says. “Although you may feel like you are not making an impact, many people making a small change creates a lasting and devastating effect.”

Visits to Hyperion are also dangerous for visitors. The area has limited cellphone reception and GPS coverage, which makes rescuing lost or injured hikers very challenging.

Further, according to the park’s statement, Hyperion is not the most impressive tree in the area and doesn’t match up to its hype. The trunk is small in comparison to other old redwood trees and it’s impossible to observe its height from the ground.

“There are hundreds of trees on designated trails that are more impressive to view from the tree’s base,” the statement reads.

The park is doing everything it can to prevent human visitors to Hyperion, especially now as wildfires present a threat to old trees that is much more difficult to manage.

The park’s statement leaves readers with a choice: “You must decide if you will be part of the preservation of this unique landscape — or will you be part of its destruction?”


© 2022 Los Angeles Times
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