The first settlers came to the San Lorenzo Valley to establish a location from which to provide miners with equipment for the Gold Rush. Homesteaders and lumberjacks came to the valley in the 1860s. Wagons were first used to haul felled redwoods south to the city of Felton. When that method became too slow to keep up with the rate of tree cutting, a flume was built to shoot the logs to Felton using water from creeks and the San Lorenzo River. Eventually this method became inefficient and the railroad built an extension from Felton to Boulder Creek. The railroad line was connected to the line coming into the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Jose. In less than 50 years the forests were mostly gone. Today second-and third-growth forests cover the land. Just a few stands of old growth trees remain.
With the railroad in place, Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond began as summer resort towns. Cabins dotted the region and picnickers and campers flocked there to take in the beauty and serenity. Boulder Creek proved to be the perfect site for on-location filming and a number of silent movies were shot in the area. The railroad tracks were abandoned in the 1940s as roads improved. Logging continues today but is heavily supervised and restricted. Land that once belonged to logging companies is now part of the area’s state parks.
Big Basin and Henry Cowell state parks are two excellent places to see the redwoods that generated all of the excitement in the lumber industry. The trees are protected and native plants and animals have returned to live in the shade of these amazing trees. Big Basin State Park, located adjacent to Boulder Creek, encompasses more than 18,000 acres. Plenty of trails for hikers and horseback riders meander past waterfalls, meadows and redwood trees of staggering height. Tread quietly and you may see a fox, bobcat or deer. Visit the museum to learn about the redwoods and the other plants and animals in the park.
Boulder Creek provides plenty of other options for those seeking outdoor recreation. The Boulder Creek Recreation and Park District oversees the city of Boulder Creek’s parks and the organized youth and adult sports leagues. Junction Park offers river access along a beach, grassy play areas and picnic grounds. Graham Park has ball fields and the district’s Pavilion offers classes along with a stage, computer facilities and a gym.
Ben Lomond also offers a variety of things to do. Known for its strong Scottish heritage, the close-knit community remains home to descendants of the original Scottish settlers. The community’s best-known event is the Loch Lomond Highland Games and Celtic Gathering. People come from everywhere to celebrate all that is Celtic, including bagpipe competitions, music, dance, food and athletic competitions, as well as to shop in the Celtic marketplace. The San Lorenzo Valley Swim and Health Center is also located in Ben Lomond.
Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond are a short drive north of the city of Santa Cruz. Don Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish explorer, discovered the area in 1769. He named the San Lorenzo River to honor Saint Lawrence, and Santa Cruz meaning “Holy Cross.” Today the city of Santa Cruz is famous for its boardwalk, with more than 34 rides and attractions, restaurants, shops, arcades and a miniature golf course. The Giant Dipper roller coaster – built in 1924 – and the 1911 Loof Carousel are National Historic Landmarks. The city of Santa Cruz is the county seat of Santa Cruz County.
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