1,000-Year-Old Tree Vs. Peninsula Train

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Miguel Vieira
    The Nature Conservancy is doing what it can to help struggling state parks like Humboldt Redwoods on the north coast.

    Nothing can stop the march of progress! Except maybe the El Palo Alto redwood.

    The tree's been living in Palo Alto for about a thousand years, scientists estimate. And now it's right smack dab in the way of high-speed rail.
    Currently, Caltrain runs just ten feet away from the tree, and plans to widen the track could spell disaster for the centuries-old redwood.

    Redwoods have very wide, shallow root systems, and disturbance of topsoil can kill their roots. That poses particular challenges to designing the new high-speed rail line, since every conceivable alternative involves some measure of risk. From relocating the tracks to building a trench to raising the track up higher, any act could potentially spell the end of El Palo Alto.

    The High Speed Rail authority continues to study the impacts of construction. An initial report was alarmingly vague on details for preserving the tree.

    Should the tree be killed by the high-speed rail, it would be sorely missed. It appears on Stanford University's seal and in the logo for the city of Palo Alto. Over the years, human pollution and destruction have killed portions of the tree, but it's managed to cling to life so far.

    A hundred and fifty years ago, the tree is thought to have been the campsite for Gaspar de Portola, the first known European to stumble across the San Francisco Bay and its inhabitants. Now, it seems as though his fateful discovery might have signaled the beginning of the end for El Palo Alto.