With or without a fiscal crisis miring the California State Park system, these natural and historic places deserve the kind of attention paid in the documentary “California Forever.”
It starts with an old timey re-creation of discovering giant sequoias and the Yosemite Valley. In a sense, trees trump 3000 foot high granite walls. Two and three hundred foot tall plants inspire us with the fact of their living spirit. They connect us to people and events in the distant past. They connect us to California’s growth.
People like Frederick Law Olmsted (Sr. and Jr., each in his time) foresaw the clear cutting of old growth forests, the trashing of spectacular attractions and compelling wilderness. They recognized that even protected areas must be managed. They knew hundreds of visitors would someday be millions of visitors.
Because of the vision of many such heroes, about 600 miles of California’s 1200 miles of coastline is protected (300 miles, state; 300 federal). How easily the access could have been constricted by manifest commercial destiny.
Because of the committed rallying of a wide range of people, more than 250 special places in California have been preserved. These include massive tracts of unfathomable desert charm and a necessary remembrance of decimated indigenous populations. These embrace undeniable wonders and modest strongholds. They invigorate human spirit with a counterpoint to fettered lives. These represent, perhaps, democracy at its finest. “Access to natural wonders,” Olmsted said, “should not be the exclusive domain of the wealthy.
“California Forever” does well summarizing centuries of history and millions of square miles. Not quite up to the standard set by Ken Burns, this documentary leverages the Burns style commendably. This visit, this reminder, is an image-rich trip to the movies. Whether it plants a seed or stirs activism, it is an important spirit to keep in mind.