If you’ve been to the Yosemite National Park, chances are you’ve seen the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree, now also known as the Fallen Tunnel Tree. The Wawona was once a towering sequoia that stood in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park in California, USA until February 1969. It is estimated to have been around 2,300 years old by the time it fell.
The Wawona had a height of 227 feet (69 m) and was 26 feet (7.9 m) in diameter at the base. It is not clear where the word ‘Wawona’ came from, but some believe it to mean either ‘big tree’ or ‘hoot of the owl.’
The famous Wawona Tunnel Tree can be found in Yosemite National Park.
The story goes that in 1881, two brothers, the Scribner siblings, were hired to cut a tunnel through the tree. They were paid $75 (around $1,861 in 2016) to do the job by the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company, which planned to make the manmade tunnel a tourist attraction. The Wawona Tunnel Tree was an instant hit, and many visitors posed for photos in and out of the tunnel.
It was turned into a manmade tunnel tree to attract tourists.
The construction of the manmade tunnel was part of the Park Service’s efforts to increase tourism during the rise of the automobile industry. Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service, believed having a big tourist clientele for the parks would attract more appropriations from Congress and establish the Park Service as a legitimate bureaucratic agency.
In the 1920s, the Park Service was keen on promoting automobile tourism.
During the 1920s, the Park Service was aggressive in promoting automobile tourism. More roads and roadside attractions were developed in Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. The term ‘scenic drive’ was introduced into the national vocabulary around this time.
The giant sequoia fell in February 1969 and is believed to have been around 2,300 years old.
In February 1969, the Wawona fell under a heavy load of snow on its crown. There were debates on what should be done to the fallen tree, but it has remained where it fell for ecological reasons. Because of their massive size, giant sequoias can create new ecosystems when they fall, allowing new plant growth and serving as habitat for animals.
The Wawona remains a popular tourist attraction.
Some say the Wawona Tunnel Tree may have served as the inspiration for the 1946 children’s book, Big Tree, by Mary and Conrad Buff.
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