There’s something magical about Northern California's Redwood Coast. It’s no wonder that many couples begin planning one of the most memorable celebrations of their lives, they’re drawn to host their nuptials among the breath-taking landscapes behind our Redwood Curtain. We are incredibly fortunate that in Humboldt County, “some 80 percent of our land is forested, protected, or deemed recreation area,” according to county profile at www.humboldtgov.org/1209/County-Profile.
Access to these wondrous natural venues for our ceremonies and celebrations, however, is not necessarily always a walk in the park. Most are privately owned or managed by government entities that may require permits and/or fees for hosting events. Obtaining the proper permissions can be a confusing process; many couples and vendors don’t quite know where to begin. Last spring, a state park ranger admitted to me that the process can even be a moving target for park administrators, as management strategies shift annually with changes in funding and policy.
In the early days of my event planning business, my learning curve in navigating land use was not without a run in with a ranger. I set out on a scouting mission with another vendor in search of the perfect ceremony location for an upcoming elopement. My colleague and I drove to one of our majestic parks, visiting grove after grove until we had drew suspicion from a ranger we’d passed several times in our quest. At our next stop, the ranger raced in behind us to ask us about our intent. When we candidly explained our scouting mission, he enlightened us about required permits and fees for events, photography, and any commercial business conducted within the parks, warning us of consequences and fines in cases where permits are not secured.
I considered this encounter fortunate since it happened only on a scouting mission and not on a client’s wedding day. Since then I’ve been committed to work cooperatively and closely with our parks.
The consequences of not following proper land use protocol extends far beyond a hitch in the proceedings and fines. Ultimately the regulations are in place to protect and preserve our revered natural surroundings and quality guest experiences.
Be it redwoods, beaches, prairies, river- banks, canyons or otherwise, we are drawn to hosting our celebrations in these locations because of their awe-inspiring, natural beauty, but we, as humans, impact our surroundings simply by being in them. Over the last eight years, I’ve seen park accessibility for some of my favorite wedding and elopement locations change considerably. Some of these cherished spots now require a hired park ranger chaperone for the duration of the celebration. A number of iconic regional locations have been closed indefinitely to weddings, and fewer locations are available to host larger celebrations.
In terms of the experience of your guests, foregoing proper permissions can also have negative impact. Imagine showing up to a secluded redwood grove for a permitted elopement you’ve been planning from out of state for months, only to have another un-permitted couple arrive in wedding attire. Awkward. Or how about arriving to a pristine precipice overlooking our rugged Pacific coastline to stumble upon the scatterings of non-native flower petals from someone else’s ceremony — not such an untouched landscape after all.
All this to say, it should be top priority for everyone to support our parks in protecting our natural wonders when accessing them for once-in-a-lifetime occasions. The following are some helpful suggestions for planning a wedding or event in Humboldt County’s parks:
Research your desired location and find out who manages it. (Check out the websites below.) Be sure to learn as much about the location’s wedding guidelines as possible (including specific areas and dates that are not permitted). Remember that rangers are busy managing our parks and are not meant to serve as wedding planners… that’s what professionals like me are for.
Select a specific location for your event. Be mindful of prohibited or restricted areas when you make your selections. It doesn’t hurt to email the listed supervising ranger or contact to double check the availability of and fees associated with the selected location.
Complete the application in its entirety. In my experience, it’s best to answer all questions on the application. In cases where a question does not apply to your event, simply write “N/A.” Again, specificity is highly encouraged. Make sure you’re submitting the application within the correct window of time, as in some instances applications submitted more than six months in advance will result in no review of your application.
Submit the correct fee amount with your application. Again, an email into the designated contact may be a good idea here to see if there may be additional fees for a hired ranger chaperone or other special circumstances.
Follow all rules and guidelines of your permit on the event day, and make sure you have a copy of your permit with you during the event.
The following websites are for some of our popular local parks. While we have many state parks in our region, permits are reviewed by the same supervising rangers for their respective jurisdictions.
Arcata Community Forest / Redwood Park: www.cityofarcata.org/390/Venue-Rentals
Sequoia Park: www.ci.eureka.ca.gov/depts/pnr/parks/default.asp
Humboldt County Parks: www.humboldtgov.org/1592/County-Parks-Facilities
Humboldt Redwoods State Park: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=425
Patrick’s Point State Park: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=417
Redwood National Park: www.nps.gov/redw/planyourvisit/sup.htm
If you’re planning your wedding on our Redwood Coast, doing your homework thoroughly to make sure you have the proper permits ensures your event — or the one you’re planning for someone else — not only creates lifetime memories, but also preserves that beauty and its accessibility for others to enjoy for their celebrations too.