Alden Olmsted continues supporting state parks with new signs, Across California Trail |

Alden Olmsted continues supporting state parks with new signs, Across California Trail

Alden Olmsted at Jug Handle from his movie, "The Story of Jug Handle" New signs are going up at Jug Handle State Park that pay tribute to Olmsted's father John Olmsted.
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Despite living a nomadic California lifestyle, filmmaker Alden Olmsted remains committed to grassroots efforts that support state parks while preserving his naturalist father’s legacy through new interpretive panels and an updated website chronicling the evolution of the not-yet-actualized Across California Trail.

This fall, a new interpretive panel will be installed at Jug Handle State Preserve, retelling the story of a late September day in 1972, when naturalist John Olmsted and a band of conservationists stopped developers from forever altering Mendocino’s windswept coastline.

“We are moving forward with the panel that talks about how Jug Handle was saved, the vision of John Olmsted and the California Institute of Man and Nature. It will also speak to the influence on the statewide preservation scene,” said Loren Rex, Mendocino Sector Superintendent for California State Parks — Sonoma Mendocino Coast District.

John Olmsted spent his life dedicated to a vision for preserving a necklace of public parklands strung across California from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Tahoe.

“If I don’t put his name on the things he did, it will disappear and people will forget. It’s just gone and it’s lost. He’s done way too much for it to be forgotten this quickly.”Alden Olmsted

He is known locally for his work within what is now the South Yuba State Park — preserving Bridgeport and creating the first wheelchair accessible trail in the U.S., the Independence Trail.

Jug Handle, Bridgeport and Independence Trail were beads in the late Olmsted’s necklace-of-parks dream.

“The panel will focus on that one day when bulldozers were stopped,” at Jug Handle, said Alden Olmsted.

In May 2011, shortly after the death of his father, Olmsted heard about the threatened closure of 70 state parks and launched a “bucket” fundraising campaign to keep state parks open — saying that if every Californian just put $1 in a bucket, the effort would succeed.

In 2012, the nonprofit group Alden Olmsted started, the Olmsted Park Fund, donated $9,500 to keep Jug Handle State Park open.

Since that time, a growing number of people have contacted Olmsted, wanting to know more about the history of the park that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

In 2014, Olmsted released his film, “The Story of Jug Handle.”

Olmsted has located a cabinetmaker in the Bay Area who will build the wooden display. After working with the artist who designed the park’s current signage, Olmsted will deliver the final storyboard later this fall, to be placed next to panels detailing the significance of the Ecological Staircase and Pygmy Forest found along nature trails in the park.

The park and adjacent Jug Handle Creek Farm is a popular outdoor classroom visited by many Nevada County school groups each year.

Olmsted thinks its time to create similar signs in Nevada County, where John Olmsted lived for three decades.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t do a similar one at Bridgeport and Independence Trail,” Olmsted said.

A kiosk at PG&E’s Sierra Discovery trail off Bowman Lake Road — another bead in John Olmsted’s necklace of parks — a drawing of John Olmsted’s hand is depicted without mention of who it belongs to. John Olmsted often used his hand for a prop when teaching generations of school children. Alden Olmsted would like to see his dad mentioned.

Since his fathers’ death, Alden Olmsted has been a somewhat reluctant but committed curator of his dad’s legacy, keeping the story alive for people who knew him and retelling it afresh for new park visitors.

Olmsted has documented his father’s life in two films, established archives at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park including his hat and walking stick, created a Wikipedia and Facebook page about his father’s work and launched a website, The John Olmsted Across California Trail.

Recycled plastic buckets bearing an illustration of his bearded, smiling father’s mug can still be found filling up with dollars and spare change at BriarPatch Co-op counters, donations that go to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park’s education fund.

“If I don’t put his name on the things he did, it will disappear and people will forget,” Olmsted said. “It’s just gone and it’s lost. He’s done way too much for it to be forgotten this quickly,”

Olmsted launched the Across California website in the spring and this summer added a map etched with the two routes his father proposed.

Since the launch, a number of interested recreationists have contacted him.

“As soon as I launched the website, I started getting emails. Everyone is excited about a new trail,” he said.

Mountain bicyclists from Shasta County, Supervisor Richard Anderson from Nevada County and Rails for Trails supporters have reached out to Alden and the project that could become the third longest trail in California.

“Everyone wants to partner. I’d like to have a small team. They want to know how to help. I need them to say, ‘here’s what I can do,’” he said.

Without a home base, Olmsted struggles with his nuts and bolts to-do list, like managing the website and scouting remote and rugged legs of the undeveloped trail.

Plans are afoot to schedule at least four walking tours of the proposed routes next summer — Jug Handle to Willits, Willits to Goat Mountain (north of Clear Lake), Marysville to Bridgeport and Bridgeport to Tahoe. Olmsted is looking for folks to join him.

Asked why he continues to support state parks, Alden Olmsted said the thing that drives him is a passion to keep the fires burning for the kind of grassroots community movements that helped create state parks in the first place.

“I think that level of parks should continue to be cultivated and watered. And let’s face it, I’m still kind of carving my own path. I’m still figuring out what piece I will continue.”

Learn more about the Across California Trail at

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at or 530-913-3067.

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