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Former US Route 101 on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park)

During 2014 I paid a visit to Redwood National and State Parks of Northern California.  One of the many districts I visited was Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park which contains a former segment of US Route 101 on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.

 
 
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway is a 10 mile segment of former US Route 101.  Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway begins at US 101/Redwood Highway Exit 753 in Redwood National Park within Humboldt County.  Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway follows the course of Prairie Creek through the namesake Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park back to US 101/Redwood Highway Exit 765 just north of the Del Norte County Line.


A more detailed map of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway from the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park brochure.






Chapter 1; the history of the Redwood Highway, Legislative Route 1, US Route 101 and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

According to the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park brochure the exploration of the Humboldt County and Del Norte County Coast was first made by European explorers beginning in 1543 during an expedition led by Bartolome Ferrelo.  The first European landing in what is now Humboldt County was made at Trinidad Head near modern Trinidad in 1775 by Bruno Hezeta and Juan Bodega.  During 1850 in the early California Gold Rush placer gold claims were staked in Fern Canyon.  The influx of miners to Fern Canyon overwhelmed the Native Yurok Tribe which was forced into reservations.

By the 1890s the population of Northern California had greatly expanded.  Numerous short line railroads were built into the Coastal Redwood Groves to facilitate commercial logging.  Conservation efforts to preserve the Prairie Creek Redwoods began during 1918 when the Save the Redwoods League was formed.  By 1923 the State of California and the Save the Redwoods League had acquired much of the old growth Redwoods of Prairie Creek.  By 1925 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park was established with an substantial increase in acreage being acquired by 1931.  By 1968 Redwood National Park was created in Northern California.  By 1994 the National Park Service and California State Park System agreed to manage their Redwood Parks in Northern California as a functionally singular unit which included Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.  

The history of what would become US Route 101 and the Redwood Highway within Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park begins with the approval of the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act.  The First State Highway Bond Act was approved by voters during 1910 and was the genesis point of some of the most notable highways in California.  Legislative Route 1 ("LRN 1") in it's original form was a new State Highway which was designated between San Francisco north to Crescent City.  The route of LRN 1 would be extended to the Oregon State Line during the 1919 Third State Highway Bond Act and was known as the Redwood Highway.

The northern extent of LRN 1 through Northern California and what would become Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park can be seen on the 1918 Division of Highways Map


LRN 1 and the Redwood Highway show as a promoted Auto Trail on the 1920 Clason Highway Map of California.  The original route of the Redwood Highway and LRN 1 diverged slightly from modern Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway onto Coastal Drive towards the Klamath River Ferry to Requa.  The Redwood Highway extended into Oregon via what would become US Route 199 towards Grants Pass.


In November 1926 the US Route System was created.  US Route 101 from San Francisco north to Crescent City was aligned over the Redwood Highway.  US Route 199 was aligned over the Redwood Highway from Crescent City to Grants Pass.  Both US 101 and US 199 appear aligned over the Redwood Highway on the 1927 Rand McNally Highway Map of California.

The October 1935 California Highways and Public Works Guide features US 101 through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park as it's cover.

 
The September/October 1964 California Highways and Public Works Guide discusses a bypassed former alignment of US 101 being designated as the State Maintained CA 254 which is known as the "Avenue of the Giants."  The alignment of US 101 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is also discussed as being under study.  


US 101 was realigned off of Coastal Drive towards a new bridge over the Klamath River in 1966.  The construction of the new Klamath River Bridge was accelerated by the partial destruction of the 1926 Douglas Memorial Bridge during the Christmas Floods of 1964.  This new alignment of US 101 formed the basis for the northern end of modern Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and can be seen on the 1966 Division of Highways State Map

Ultimately a planned realignment of US 101 around Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park wouldn't be formalized until the mid-1980s.  The planned US 101 bypass of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park first appears on the 1986 Caltrans State Highway Map.


The new US 101 bypass route of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park opened during 1993.  Former US 101 through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park was relinquished to the State Park System and was designated as Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.   Newton Drury was the executive director of the Save the Redwoods League and the fourth director of the National Park Service.


Chapter 2; a 2014 drive on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

My approach to former US 101 on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway was from the modern highway northbound within the boundary of Redwood National Park.  I took Exit 753 from modern US 101 to join Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway; the images below are snipped from Google Street View.  Notably bicycle traffic is advised to exit modern US 101 onto Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.



Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway northbound opens up into Elk Prairie where the State Park Visitor Center can be located.


North of Elk Prairie the route of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway enters a thick grove of Coastal Redwoods.  It isn't hard to find scenic photo opportunities lining almost the entire route north to US 101.




I stuck to mostly trails east of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.  No matter which trail you chose there are plenty of Coastal Redwoods to see.










Upon leaving Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park the alignment of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway reenters Redwood National Park and rejoins US 101 at Exit 765.


Chapter 3; a 2020 drive on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway

In 2020 I made a return to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway while on a California National Parks run.  Given my direction of travel was on US 101 southbound I utilized Exit 765 to reach Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway.


From the north terminus of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway the campground attached to the Prairie Creek Redwoods Visitor Center is signed as 7 miles to the south. 

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway south passes by the original alignment of US 101 at Coastal Drive.  Much of Coastal Drive has eroded so heavily that it is closed to anything but hiking.  



Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway south from Coastal Drive passes through the Prairie Creek Grove and into Elk Prairie.  

















A hike on the Prairie Creek Trail from the Prairie Creek Redwoods Visitor Center offers a easy hike through the lush Prairie Creek Grove. 














































Returning to Elk Prairie the route of Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway continues south back to US 101. 






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