From Melrose Place to Muir Woods

Ever since the world first fell in love with her on Melrose Place, actress Courtney Thorne-Smith has remained one of television’s most familiar faces, with roles on L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, According to Jim, and, most recently, Two and a Half Men. When she’s not on set, you can find Courtney hiking among her beloved redwoods along the California coast. She recently stepped away from the spotlight to chat with us about her support for The Trust for Public Land.

Thank you so much for your continued support of The Trust for Public Land. What is it about our mission of conserving land for people that attracts you?

My dad loved The Trust for Public Land and he instilled that passion in me. We find it to be profoundly important work.

I have always felt like I can breathe in nature. My heartbeat slows when I’m outside; I’m not on alert, there’s no traffic, no noise, no other people. It’s so important to protect the places we go to breathe; to get away from it all. There is something intuitively natural and logical in the fact that we feel better in nature. You really do breathe differently when you’re surrounded by trees.

We live in Los Angeles, which is super crowded. But, we’re lucky to live in the Santa Monica Mountains, where we have access to trees and are able to get to the woods and ocean quickly. That’s not the case for everyone in L.A.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy nature?

My husband and I love to hike. For our honeymoon, we cruised the California coast, stopping in Arcata, Mendocino, Mill Valley, and Big Sur. We would hike all day, have a huge lunch, and then just read. It was a dream to simply spend time hiking, talking, and being together out in nature. There’s a place in Arcata called Fern Canyon and the Valley of the Ferns that takes you through these amazing groves with 200-300 foot ferns. They filmed Jurassic Park there. It’s astounding.

It’s our dream to move somewhere we can hike right out our front door. Mill Valley and other towns in Northern California’s Marin County have that, so that may be a possibility someday.

Did your love of conservation begin at a young age?

I come by my love of the land and the outdoors naturally. Growing up, we lived in an unincorporated area of Menlo Park that was all dirt and trees and tree houses. My mom lives in Boulder now, surrounded by trees and beautiful mountains, and my dad lived in Portola Valley, CA. It’s in my blood. I live in the hills now; I look around and see trees. Nature has always been important to me.

Why do you think people need open space, parks, and natural lands?

People need space to get out and walk and breathe and feel free. That’s why these big parks and open spaces are so important. People on hikes are friendlier, too—happier—because everyone is on a natural high.

I love to visit places like New York City, but I couldn’t live there. I feel so crowded by it; by the tall buildings everywhere. Even in Central Park. It feels crowded to me. People aren’t as friendly when they’re cramped. The more room you have, the more welcoming you become.

What part of our mission do you connect to the most?

I connect most to The Trust for Public Land’s work conserving large natural landscapes and protecting wildlife habitat. My husband takes photography in all the places we visit, from Alaska to Africa, and when you see a wild animal in its natural habitat, it just moves you in a whole different way. Once you are aware of what we do as a human race, of how much land we take; it becomes a question of how much more land do we need? We’re already encroaching everywhere.

Do you feel your commitment to conservation has strengthened now that you have a son?

Yes, I do. I have always felt strongly about it anyway. But when you have children, you become more passionate about the things you believe in. You want to be sure those things will be available for your child. I want my money to go to conserving land for him. We don’t want him to live in a concrete world. He’s lucky to live in a beautiful area surrounded by trees now and when we go on vacation, we go where there are trees. But I want to make sure he always has that option.

One of our goals is to see all the state parks. We buy a yearly pass every time we visit to support the parks. We’ll sometimes talk about what Jack will do when he grows up and one of the jobs that’s been tossed around is forest ranger. But what if those types of jobs aren’t there when he grows up? What if there are no forests to maintain?

Do you spend a lot of time outdoors as a family?

We do, but not as much as we’d like to now that Jack is four. When he was a baby, it was easy. I could just strap him to me and we would take off. But we pry him away from his Legos whenever we can and get outside to walk the dogs. Every time we do it he has so much fun—but he really loves those Legos.

What’s the most special outdoor place to you?

Muir Woods [in Northern California]. My husband and I have a real affinity for redwoods. They’re just so beautiful. We like to get to Muir Woods at 7 a.m. when it’s still quiet. On our honeymoon, we got there early and there was a huge owl just sitting there. It was amazing. We’ve even got a bit lost there. We took the hike that goes to Stinson Beach and didn’t realize how far back it would be. We got stuck in the hills and eventually had to call a cab or we wouldn’t have made it back for dinner. It was Christmas Day, so it was pretty funny—it’s a great memory.

Well, they say it isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong!

That’s right.

Thank you for your time, Courtney, and thanks so much for your continued support of The Trust for Public Land.

Thank you for the work you do!

More information on our work in California.