Brenda L. Negley of Oakhurst gained national attention in 2012 when she was named Volunteer Host of the Year by the U.S. Forest Service for her dedicated work at Nelder Grove, home to 99 majestic giant sequoia trees, 13 miles north of Oakhurst.
Negley’s love affair with Nelder Grove started as a youngster, as her grandparents, John and Marge Hawksworth, served as the first hosts at the grove for 20 years (1975-1995).
Negley, 49, was 4 years old the first time she camped with her grandparents at the grove. She began learning the grove’s history from her grandparents when she about 7.
“My twin sister (Beverly) and I spent a good chunk of our summers with our grandparents and we would help give tours to their friends,” Negley said. “I feel like I was kind of in training.”
When she graduated from Yosemite High School in 1985, Negley joined the U.S. Army but would go to the grove to see her grandparents whenever she had the opportunity until they retired. After her military service, she became a teacher and taught for many years.
In 2008 and 2009, Brenda and her family (husband Brian, son Ben, daughter Brooke) began spending summers at Nelder Grove and Negley volunteered full time developing interpretive information and greeting visitors.
In 2010, Brenda became the official interpretive campground host and initiated interpretive walks through the 1,540-acre grove. Because of all her work, Nelder Grove has maintained its status as an interpretive historical logging site and recreational area woven with a number of multi-use trails.
The grove holds such sacredness that Negley was even proposed to in 1998 by husband Brian, at the foot of the appropriately christened Hawksworth tree, officially named for her grandparents in 1997.
“Nelder Grove - A Granddaughter’s Stories”
And now Negley has penned a book - “Nelder Grove of the Giant Sequoias - A Granddaughter’s Stories,” in honor of her beloved grandparents and their abiding passion for a little piece of Heaven on earth.
“The book is not only about my stories, but also detailed information on the trails, the history of the grove including the first inhabitants, first written encounters, logging, John Nelder and John Muir, naming of the trees, the cabins from Biledo Meadow, ‘Camp Beulah’ in the 1930s, sequoia ecology, flora and fauna, trees and why they are important to the world and our health,” explained Negley. “There is also a section on campfire etiquette, and sections discussing the people associated with the grove such as the the Bissetts, the Westfalls, the Kelleys and even P.T. Barnum.”
Negley, having spent countless hours exploring, nurturing, and researching the grove’s plentiful riches herself, admits it has stolen her heart.
“I feel as if I’m at home in the grove,” Negley warmly confessed in a recent one-on-one interview. “I see myself being a bigger part of the grove trying to protect it for future generations.”
Having founded the nonprofit organization Friends of Nelder Grove (www.neldergrove.org) in 2009, Negley is steadfast in her honorable pursuit to seek additional volunteers for the never-ending task of protecting and maintaining the area.
Assisting and educating visitors at Nelder Grove has truly been a blessing to Negley, yet still she desired to do more, thus was born the idea of a book, with breathtaking photos and rich history of Nelder Grove to share with the world.
The book is creatively woven with gems of little-known antiquities and brought to life with 350 kaleidoscopic photographs.
“In researching I’ve realized how much I truly love history,” Negley said. “The first historical essay I wrote in eighth grade won a Fresno Flat’s Nathan Sweet award. There’s a beauty in discovering the wealth of information documented on local families that brought the grove to its present place in history.”
Negley’s history-packed labor of love, based on a magical 1,540 acre stretch of wilderness, is certain to take your breath away.
The history of Nelder Grove
The majestic and serene grove of giant sequoias north of Oakhurst was first settled at least 4,000 years ago by local Native American tribes. In 1858, Galen Clark, who believed he was the first Euro-American to discover the grove, named it Fresno Grove, since it was part of Fresno County at that time.
In 1875, John Nelder, a naturalist, acquired a 160-acre homestead there, and after completing his cabin at the base of the largest sequoia tree in the grove, he met John Muir. Nelder lived in the grove for 14 years until he passed away in 1889. In the early 1930s Fresno Grove was renamed to Nelder Grove in his honor.
From 1888-1892, the Madera Flume and Trading Company had a working mill within the grove. The mill was close to the current campground and harvested lumber primarily from the sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, and cedar trees.
Large sequoia logs that were cut about 120 years ago, after the closing of the mill, still exist today as solid pieces of wood.
Book-signing July 16
The public is invited to meet Negley during a book-signing event to celebrate the release of “Nelder Grove of the Giant Sequoias - A Granddaughter’s Stories,” 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., this Saturday at Branches Books & Gifts, located in Junction Plaza at the intersection of Highway 41 and Crane Valley Road (426). The book retails for $24.95.