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Managing Cultural and Natural Resources

Each year we hold our collective breath as fire season approaches. We listen for the wail of sirens, watch the horizon for plumes of smoke and search the scanners for word of local conflagrations. And every year that we are fortunate enough to emerge from fire season unscathed we thank our lucky stars.

Over the past few months, the interpretive and law enforcement staffs at Marshall Gold Discovery SHP have been diligently working on and updating a fire emergency plan for the park. The importance of having this plan really hit home on August 19 when we learned that the CZU Lightning Complex Fire had blazed through the Santa Cruz Mountains destroying much of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

But, having a plan in place and actually executing it can be two divergent processes, especially with a blaze bearing down. So on August 19, to avoid some of the chaos and also gain a better understanding of how long the evacuation process might take, staff at Marshall Gold Discovery SHP began staging artifacts for removal to the Statewide Museum Collections Center at McClellan. With the help of Supervisor Cultural Resources Program Steve Hilton, Historian Matthew Walker and Archeologist Ian Springer from the Gold Fields District Office, the Marshall Gold Discovery SHP staff wrapped and staged larger items of furniture in historic structures so the artifacts would be ready for quick removal should the need arise. Over the next several days Interpreter I Holly Thane and Park Interpretive Specialist Susan Okey coordinated park staff in removing and packing smaller items from the displays in the museum and historic buildings.

Meanwhile Park Maintenance Supervisor Patrick Metcalf was in communication with Steve Hilton, District Maintenance Chief Nathan Harper and Senior Environmental Scientist Meghan Sullivan developing a plan to create more defensible space around the park’s historic structures. Working in conjunction with the district’s naturalists, the maintenance staff has been hard at work weedeating, mowing, and trimming back blackberries, shrubs and small trees around the buildings. Several diseased and hazard trees have been or are scheduled to be removed including a 150+ year old ponderosa pine near St. John’s church.

It looked like all the preparation would be put to the test on Tuesday, September 8. Around 11:30 a.m., the Coloma Valley, where Marshall Gold Discovery SHP is located, quickly filled with smoke from the Fork Fire, which erupted about 25 miles east of the park. As the fire made its way west down the steep canyons, staff scurried to box up the remaining artifacts, and several trucks from the district office were staged at the park in the event that all the packed artifacts would indeed need to be removed quickly.

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