Big trees hit the big screen

A preview of a documentary to be broadcast on Valley PBS dives deep into the livelihood of the giant sequoias and the impact they have had on individuals is showing at the L.J. Williams theater

VISALIA –  The Visalia Education Foundation will show Valley residents a preview of the documentary Big Trees – Big Impact before it airs in its entirety on public television network, Valley PBS, next year.

Big Trees – Big Impact tells a story about the Giant Sequoias in our own backyard. Lee Terkelsen, former Golden West teacher and local reporter, is the producer of the film. He came up with the idea after realizing how little people truly know about the trees and their history. At the Visalia Education Foundation’s (VEF) event, Terkelsen will live narrate the showing for audience members. 

“It’s a documentary about two things really,” Terkelsen said. “One is the impact that [the Sequoias] have had on our history, in terms of our environmental laws in terms of, national parks, for example. And another equally important impact is the impact that [the Sequoias] had on individuals, just their emotional relationship with sequoias and what their reaction has caused them to do.”

On Sept. 15 individuals of all ages are invited to join Terkelsen to learn the deeper side of Sequoia trees at the preview of his documentary at the L. J. Williams Theater. Big Trees – Big Impact will be broadcast in 2023 on Valley PBS. What is being shown at the preview is a condensed version that Terkelsen will narrate in person and add additional information. He said there will be two 50 minute portions with an intermission in the middle. It is unknown at the time if there will be time or the opportunity for a question and answer period. 

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online and family and group rates are available. Laura Pace, VEF president, hopes to sell out the L.J that holds about 1200 seats. 

“It’s gonna be a really awesome show,” Pace said. “I think anybody would benefit from going, especially with the sequoias right here in our backyard.”

This will be the third time Terkelsen has worked with the Visalia Education Foundation. He hosted a similar event for his documentary on the John Muir Trail as well as one on the High Sierra Trail. There will be a raffle during intermission of items donated by community businesses. One enticing raffle prize is a private tour for two through the sequoias guided by Terkelsen.

Terkelsen said he got the idea for the documentary after spending some time with a friend who was exploring sequoia groves. He began to spend more time exploring himself and it was brought to his attention that 90% of people who go through the parks rush to see the General Sherman Tree for a few moments and then get in their cars and leave again. 

“[Individuals who come to look at the trees] don’t really realize all of the stories and the impact behind sequoia trees, they just want to know the statistics,” Terkelsen said. “So I guess this documentary kind of avoids those things and tells the stories hidden beneath the statistics.”

Terkelsen said the course of his documentary changed when he saw the effects the raging fires, that covered so much ground last year, had on nearby forestry. The fires added a huge element to the documentary that could not be overlooked. He said this documentary is not a debate piece, but it simply addresses the issue. 

Terkelsen said he leaves the question open in his documentary, “are we just as guilty [as loggers 125 years ago] through our activities of contributing to climate change, and possibly not doing anything about it causing things like more intense fires to destroy the sequoia trees?”

The documentary covers topics from logging, to the story of Charlie Castro extinguishing a fire in a sequoia tree in 1967, to the story of the editor of the Visalia Times Delta, George Steward, who was considered the father of Sequoia National Park. Also covered is the first discovery of the trees as well as important pieces of the forest that are overlooked each and every day by tourists and locals alike. 

Terkelsen is grateful for the two big sponsors, Tulare County Historical Society as well as JD Haskell and Company for their help in the making of the documentary as well as help with the broadcasting portion.

Terkelsen gives a teaser on his instagram account with a snippet of information about twice a week leading up to the event. For more information email [email protected] or call 559-730-7518. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at  

The Visalia Education Foundation hosts fundraisers to provide scholarships to students and teachers in the Visalia school district. They provide mini-grants to teachers for up to $500 for innovative ideas that would not be covered in the school’s budget according to Pace. Each year VEF also gives out scholarships to graduating seniors. 

“Then we give out about $70,000 worth of scholarships to our graduating seniors at the end of each school year, so we’re really just here to support teachers and students in the school district,” Pace said.

In October VEF will be hosting the Visalia Unified Band Showcase event where the four high schools are able to perform their halftime shows as well as their competitive shows. In addition to each school’s band, the dance team and cheer teams also have an opportunity to perform. This event is hosted at the Groppetti Stadium.

For further information on VEF’s events visit their website at

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