Friday, December 5, 2003

The Stevens Trail

Some remarks about the Stevens Trail, where complaints by an adjacent property owner, Mike Viscia, have led the BLM to consider closing the existing parking area. Apparently Mr. Viscia's complaints have centered upon overflow parking along the road itself, where he has placed many "no trespassing" and "no parking" signs.

The Stevens Trail was constructed, as I recall, in the 1870s, and connected Colfax to Iowa Hill, crossing the North Fork American on a suspension bridge near the confluence of Secret Ravine. It is not depicted on the current USGS 7.5 minute Colfax Quadrangle, but is depicted on many older maps. It is one of the sixty-odd Placer County trails declared to be public trails in the famous 1953 BOS ordinance.

It has become one of the BLM's most popular and heavily-used trails. After winding gently in and out and up and down, it drops a mite more steeply just below Cape Horn itself, crosses Robbers Ravine, and soon thereafter flattens to an almost level grade, and parallels the river a couple hundred feet above, over the last mile and some to Secret Ravine.

Access to the trail is had on the frontage road southeast of I-80. In something like half a mile from the Colfax overpass, one reaches the end of the road, with the parking area on the left--the freeway side--and the Viscia driveway bending right. The parking area is almost 150 feet long, about 50 feet wide, is graveled, and is supplied with garbage cans. It is neatly kept. Signs indicate the trailhead, and inform one that overflow parking is available along the freeway side of the road.

That overflow parking could ever be necessary testifies to the high level of use of this trail. This morning, at 8:00 a.m., in a light rain, nobody was there. Mr. Viscia had, I was told, blocked one of the two accesses to the parking area with a berm. I was just photographing the berm, made from several dump-truck loads of boulders and dirt, when a car approached the Viscia driveway, and stopped as if to investigate me. I pointed my camera at the car and it left, entering the driveway.

On my 1900-era topographic map of this area, a road is shown leading from Colfax to the trail. At that time, both the Central Pacific and the Nevada County Narrow Gauge tracks used the same low pass to exit Colfax, and this Stevens Trail Road shared that pass, at first closely paralleling the narrow-gauge railroad. The road then dropped a little more steeply into the headwaters of Slaughter Ravine, diverging from the tracks, and ended almost due west from another little pass, which the trail crosses into the Burnt Flat area.

Now the old road is used as the trail, and is posted with a sign, denying use to motor vehicles.

It would be quite difficult, but not quite impossible, to expand the parking area.

After obtaining GPS coordinates, and taking a look around the parking area, and the first portion of the trail, and the overflow parking area, and gazing out into the fog-shrouded canyon, I left and drove across the overpass into Colfax, taking Highway 174 north, but passing the turn left to Grass Valley, continuing on what is called Rollins Lake Road, but which is in fact old Highway 40.

Shortly thereafter Norton Grade forks right. This is the old wagon road to Dutch Flat. I followed Norton Grade for perhaps two tenths of a mile, and turned right again on Carpenter Road. This crosses the railroad tracks immediately, and in something like one-quarter mile, passes beneath I-80, and a sign then reads "End County Maintained Road." Just beyond a paved fork right leads around some curves and down to the de facto Shooting Range.

The pavement ends here and a large heavy-duty gate stands open. Perhaps the gate marks the BLM property boundary. The shooting area was as usual littered with garbage. It is a large bulldozed flat below the railroad, and is almost paved with bullet shells. Television sets and computer monitors and all kinds of appliances are bought there for the joy of pumping bullets into them. Beer bottles are shot by the dozen. It is a bit of a nightmare. The road actually continues, and with a high-clearance vehicle, one can drive south to where the Stevens Trail comes in, and then to the east, right over the little pass and down to Burnt Flat.

The BLM, due to the complaints of Mr. Viscia, is considering re-locating the Stevens Trail parking area to the Shooting Range, and (of course) closing the area to use of firearms. I find that, as the crow flies, it is a marginally shorter distance from the Shooting Area to the intersection of the road-south and the Stevens Trail, than from the existing parking area, to that same point.

I obtained GPS coordinates for the shooting range, and left. Norton Grade, Carpenter Road, the road to the Shooting Range, and that road continuation south, and then across the pass into Burnt Flat, are all depicted on the USGS Colfax Quadrangle.

Such, then, is some information bearing upon the Stevens Trail parking problem.

I can send a cropped portion of the Colfax Quadrangle, as a JPEG file 388K in size, to whomever may be interested, with the trail roughly drawn in, and the parking area and Shooting Range labeled. I also have a cropped portion of my old 1900-era map (128K) showing the old Stevens Trail Road and the trail itself, if anyone would like to see it.

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