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New ridge and living history at old Fort Ross.

Views from the dramatic blufftop setting of Fort Ross State Historical Park are now as much a part of the park as the intriguing architecture of the old Russian fort itself. In February, the park's size tripled with the purchase of the ridge of redwoods behind Fort Ross, along with other key lands. This is a good month to visit the park, 90 miles north of San Francisco: July 28 is a living history day, and access is easier now that repairs have been completed on 7 miles of State Highway 1 south of the park.

The Russians who colonized Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841 struggled to retain a livelihood based on sea otter hunts (for luxurious pelts), farming, and trade with Spanish California. Only one original building (the Rotchev House) remains, but a reconstruction of the rest of their sturdy fort includes the stockade, manager's house, and the much photographed Russian Orthodox chapel.

A visitor center tells the colony's story well with artifacts, drawings, and displays. And from 10 to 4 on July 28, costumed volunteers will be on hand to demonstrate cannon and musket firing and folk dancing.

A replica schooner, the 94-foot Californian-able to carry 7,000 square feet of sail-will anchor in the cove below the fort. You can join its voyage from the Bay Area or sign up for weekend cruises (now through September 9 in the San Francisco Bay Area, September 22 through April 28 in Southern California). Call the Nautical Heritage Society at (800) 432-2201 from within California, (714) 661-1001 outside the state.

From the fort, a road leads to a small sheltered cove with good beachcombing. You can camp just down the road at Fort Ross Reef Campground (20 sites, $ 1 0 per night; no reservations).

Working with the Save-the-Redwoods League, the state parks department acquired 2,157 acres on Fort Ross's north and east sides, including redwood forest canyons and a small beach. There's no hiking access onto the property yet, but you can take a scenic 10-mile loop drive through sections of the new lands. Across from the park entry, head uphill about 3 miles on narrow, winding Fort Ross Road, then drive north 3 miles on Seaview Road, west 2 miles on Timber Cove Road (the first road on the left), and south 2 miles on State I back to the park. It's about a 3-hour drive from San Francisco and 12 miles north of Jenner. Park hours are 10 to 4:30 daily; admission is $3 per car.
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Title Annotation:Fort Ross State Historical Park, California
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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