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Ribbon cutting for giant sequoia project at Acequia and Locust is tentatively planned for Arbor Day, April 28

Ribbon cutting for giant sequoia project at Acequia and Locust is tentatively planned for Arbor Day, April 28

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – The City of Visalia is hoping to root itself as the official Gateway to the Sequoias by building an information center in downtown around one of the few giant sequoia trees located on the Valley floor.

Work around the tree, located at the southeast corner of Acequia Avenue and Locust Street, began last year to re-grade the lot to make way for an outdoor learning center that will highlight the ties between Visalia and Sequoia National Park. The site will demonstrate the importance of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the valley floor for water, the need for conservation, and show the historical connection both to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the National Park Service.

Suzanne Bianco, Tourism and Marketing Manager for the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCVB), said the project, titled “The Hopping-Levy Historic Sequoia Tree,” will create an outdoor exhibit to educate both tourists and local children about Visalia’s unique neighbors to the east. The square lot will open with a sweeping path covered in permeable material that will surround the tree. Along the path will be wayside signs that will talk about the history of the tree, Visalia’s connection to the formation of Sequoia National Park, the Sequoiadendron giganteum species, and water conservation. There will even be a demonstration garden sponsored by the Visalia division of California Water Service.

The Hopping-Levy tree is named after former Sequoia National Park Superintendent Guy Hopping and former Visalia Postmaster Nathan Levy. In February 1936, Hopping, who was superintendent of General Grant National Park (as it was known then) and Levy, planted a pair of sequoia trees on either side of the Downtown Visalia Post Office. The trees, a mere 3 years old at the time of planting, were provided by Hopping to the Post Master and came from the Grant Grove of trees up in the Park. Hopping spent his winters occupying an office in the basement of the beautiful art-deco post office and thought the trees would be a visual symbol of the collaboration between the two agencies and would bring a bit of the National Parks to Visalia. The Valley floor is not an ideal climate for the trees and the second tree was removed in the 1980s due to poor health. The Hopping-Levy tree is already among the tallest things in downtown despite being just 82 years old.

“It’s just a sapling compared to the General Sherman tree,” Bianco said, referring to the trees that are among the oldest things on the planet with lifespans of more than 3,500 years. “It may not be with us for 2,000 years but we can pay a little tribute to it while it’s here.”

A 36-foot wide ring of rocks will surround the base of the tree to represent the General Sherman Tree in order to provide the scope of how large sequoias tree can grow.

“We are seeking relatives and descendants of Nathan Levy and Guy Hopping to share their stories,” Bianco said.

Bianco can be reached by calling the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau
at (559) 334-0141 or by emailing suzanne@visitvisalia.org.

Visalia’s connection to Sequoia National Park and the National Park Service predates the Hopping-Levy tree by 20 years. On July 14, 1915, Stephen Mather hosted a party for influential conservationists and businessmen at the Palace Hotel (corner of Locust and Main streets) in Visalia to promote the idea of creating a single federal agency to manage America’s national parks. The following morning, the 30-man Mather party set off on a 10-day trek into Sequoia National Park, only the country’s second national park when it was established in 1890. where they walked through redwood forests, swam in the Kern River, and even ascended Mount Whitney. The hike convinced the party that a national park agency was worth pursuing and less than a year later, the National Park Service was created, with Mather serving as its first director.

A wooden sign imitating those used by the National Park Service will be used to mark the Hopping-Levy Tree and the exhibits surrounding the tree will look similar to the 2-by-3-foot signs used in the national parks. While the project was approved by the Visalia City Council more than two years ago, it has been completely funded by donations from individuals, community agencies and the willingness of a few very generous volunteers who contributed their services to make it come together, particularly Matt Seals with Seals Construction and Kay Hutmacher with Sierra Designs, Inc.

Bianco said the goal is to raise $50,000 to complete the project in time for a ribbon cutting on Arbor Day, April 28. If anyone is interested in donating, they can contact me at the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau. As well, we have started a web page for additional information: www.visitvisalia.org/sequoiatree

“The Hopping-Levy Tree is a real jewel in Visalia’s downtown, and a symbol of our historic connection to Sequoia and Kings Canyon and the National Park Service,” Bianco said.

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