The Orick Inn, 1914. | Public Domain.


Orick has seen better days. That much is obvious to anyone who’s been through the former lumber town in the past, oh, four decades or so. That includes Greg Rosalsky, a reporter with “Planet Money,” National Public Radio’s economy podcast/blog.

He and his partner recently came north to visit Redwood National and State Parks to enjoy the “stunning lagoons, rivers, and beaches, eye-popping hiking and biking trails, a rich array of wildlife, and some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet.” 

Rave reviews on that front. For example, Rosalsky correctly identified the hike through Fern Canyon to Gold Bluffs Beach as “one of the best hikes on the West Coast.” He also recalls coming “face to face with a gang of Roosevelt elk.” (I think they prefer “herd.”)

As for the little unincorporated community at the gateway to the gorgeous park system? Well, here’s his take:

It’s a town called Orick. Driving through the town on Highway 101 to get to the park, you pass boarded-up motels, ramshackle houses, rusted-out cars, and properties that look like junkyards. Parts of Orick look like the setting for a zombie movie.

Brutal but true. The post goes on to recount the rise-and-long-fall history of the town, from its post-WWII heyday, fueled by America’s “insatiable demand for redwood lumber,” through its gradual economic decline, which has continued despite the proximity of the national park, created in 1968.

What caused the timber industry’s decline? Why doesn’t the park attract more tourists? And why hasn’t there been more investment in Orick’s infrastructure and upkeep? [See the addendum below.] Rosalsky looks into all of these questions. This edition of the Planet Money newsletter is well worth a read [link], and it ends with a promise of more to come: a story in next week’s edition 

about a black market that threatens Redwood trees and has led rangers to bring down the strong arm of the national park, even obtaining search warrants and knocking down Orick doors with AR-15s. The strange underground economy of tree poaching — that’s next week in the Planet Money newsletter.

Count us in. For now, though, we direct those of you who’ve never seen it to enjoy this short version of the truly excellent documentary Orick, CA, U.S.A. Filmed by Jensen Rufe and Steve Love more than two decades ago, the footage shows a town that was already down on its luck but had no shortage of local flavor.


ADDENDUM: Turns out there IS some more investment money coming to the parks. Earlier this year, the California Coastal Conservancy approved nearly $7.4 million for disbursement to the Yurok Tribe, Caltrout, Inc. and Save the Redwoods League as part of the Redwood National and State Park Visitor Center and Restoration Project. (H/t @jen_savage.)