The National Park Service has warned that visitors who attempt to see the world’s tallest tree — a 380ft redwood in California’s Redwood National Park — risk a fine of $5,000 (£4,100) and six months in jail if caught.
The coast redwood tree, Sequoia sempervirens, was named Hyperion after the Greek Titan god of heavenly light. It is estimated to be about 500 or 600 years old.
The National Park Service mentions on its website that this tree has been “on many tree enthusiasts’ bucket lists” thanks to its fame, and that its size and secrecy have made it a “frequent destination for thrill-seekers, travel bloggers and tree enthusiasts”.
Since 2006, when the tree was “discovered”, California’s Redwood National Park has tried to keep its location secret. But visitors have found ways around this.
Park officials believe that too many visitors to the site could damage the tree as well as the delicate ecology of its surrounding slopes.
“People have the right to come and enjoy their parks. However, our concern has to do with the safety of visitors and the protection of resources. And when we see potential damage, we have to make decisions that protect those things,” said Leonel Arguello, the park’s chief of natural resources.
Park officials said since the tree was located off the trail and amid dense vegetation, reaching it required a lot of heavy “bushwhacking”, or hiking off-trail.
“The forest around Hyperion has been trampled and damaged by ill-informed hikers,” the park’s officials said in a statement. “Redwood roots are incredibly shallow, reaching down 12 feet on average. Soil compaction due to trampling negatively affects these centuries-old trees.”
The officials added that the redwood forest is a “delicate ecosystem” and hiking off trail “tramples sensitive understory plants and disrupts the redwood forest ecology”.
Trash and human waste have also been found littered on the way to Hyperion, officials said.
“At some point, the top will blow out or some other tree will grow faster, and it won’t be the tallest tree. We don’t want to make yet another official trail that we have to maintain for a tree that likely won’t be the tallest tree in the future,” Mr Arguello said, according to SFGate.
He added a warning: “If someone were to get hurt down there, it’d be a while before we could get to them and extract them. These are all reasons why we’re playing it safe and protecting our resources.”