Monday, June 28, 2004

Visit to Canyon Creek; Capital-to-Capital Trail

Sunday morning I met Michael Garabedian at the Monte Vista Inn for a hike on the Canyon Creek Trail. Mike is quite an interesting man, a great lover of the North Fork. He contacted me a few weeks ago about fighting the proposed Capital-to-Capital Trail, of which more later, but what I found so unusual is that, over a period of several years, he has been exploring the North Fork more or less inch by inch, starting on the main American River, in Sacramento!!! He has worked his way all the way up to Pickering Bar, near Gold Run. He is aiming for the Sierra crest.

Canyon Creek is a mere skip and a jump upstream from Pickering Bar. In fact, a faint Gold Rush-era trail connects the two.

We used a secret route into the Diggings to reach the trailhead, from which it is a scant one and a half miles to the river. Parenthetically, I called one of the owners of the 800-acres-now-for-sale a week ago, and learned that there is no news, no escrow, no counter-counter-offer from the interested party. I dare to hope that no news is good news.

Canyon Creek has subsided to summer flows, but is still quite pretty. Recently the trail was posted to a major trails/hiking website, quite regrettably, I think, and many more people are using it. The narrow trail-bed, almost unmaintained for a century, cannot withstand this heavier use. I saw many places where heavy-footed hikers had broken down the outside edge of the trail, erasing the tiny path altogether; and as I hiked, I fumed, imagining great louts staggering along, Budweisers in hand, with all the grace and coordination of broken backhoes, ponderously operating their drunken legs by pulling levers more or less at random, and ruining the old old trail.

The flowers have almost gone now, even the Mustang Mint, the Monardella, withering in the summer heat. We paused fairly often to enjoy the views, and Mike was suitably impressed by the Inner Gorge, where waterfalls are hidden within twisting shadowy stone caverns, and where the trail, high above, was hewn from the very cliffs. Nearing the North Fork, we stopped at the fine overlook, with its strange little Indian grinding rock, and its view up the canyon into Giant Gap. Then we made for the river, and crossed Canyon Creek itself to a shady spot alongside the deep pool, at the base of the last waterfall.

I was surprised to find the Water Ouzel nest active there. The nest has been there for years. The parents--ouzels are somewhat wren-like, almost robin-sized grey birds, which forage for food underwater, plunging directly into rapids--the parents were making constant trips out to the North Fork for food, then back to the nest, beside the waterfall. A loud cheeping from their babies would erupt every time, and almost instantly the parent would zoom back to the river.

We rested and I swam the cool pool before starting back up the trail in the early afternoon heat. High pressure had eased into such a position as to set up an offshore wind aloft, which damped down the usual up-canyon wind to a near dead calm. The heat was intense, the sun glared down, and the trail seemed steeper than usual. We plodded along and took many breaks in the shade of the gnarled Canyon Live Oaks.

Back on top, we faced the difficult choice of whether to attend a wine-tasting, in Squires Canyon, or not. There would be interesting people, fine wine, food, and shade. On the other hand, more prudently, we could just go home, and rest the good rest. But--Michael is intent upon stopping the blasted Capital-to-Capital-Trail--a lawsuit may be required--and some good advice on this matter could be had, at the wine-tasting. So we gritted our teeth and chose to taste fine wine.

This proved to be quite a nice thing to do. Ed Stadum was hosting, the personable Bob Pfister was present, along with other conneisseurs of fine wines, and the legendary Bill Newsom sat in a place of high honor, with fifteen bottles of Zinfandel making a kind of forest before him; and this forest of Zinfandel was quite varied in taste and bouquet. One had to try small glasses of nearly every kind there was. The conneisseurs argued over the ordering of the wines; which was best, which second best, third, fourth, fifth.

Placer County has chosen to push the Capital-to-Capital Trail up the North Fork canyon bit by bit. What they call "Phase One" goes from the Confluence, below Auburn, up to Ponderosa Bridge, below Weimar. The County prepared a "Mitigated Negative Declaration" (in essence, "there are no negative environmental impacts") for this roughly 12-mile segment, and insisted that it is a "stand-alone" project. This just plain smells to high heaven to me; it reeks of politics and of making an end run around any honest environmental study of the blasted C-to-C Trail. However, I have been quite surprised that what *I* consider to be the leadership on environmental issues, in Placer County, namely, PARC and the Placer Group of the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club, seem strangely willing to just go along with this five-foot-wide highway for mountain bikes, running up the North Fork canyon.

I suppose I am weak-minded. If Eric Peach and Terry Davis say, "It's not so bad; it's OK," I begin to believe them. I myself virtually never hike in that part of the canyon, so, who am I to say, "build no trail"? But the thing just rankles me. I'm glad that Michael Garabedian has the courage and simple good sense to stand up and say, "This trail is a mistake; this is too wild of a canyon, too precious a solitude, to build a mountain bike highway into it."

We tasted fine wine and found good advice and good encouragement for Michael's idea that a lawsuit may be necessary to halt Phase One of the C-to-C Trail, and forcing a full Environmental Impact Study of the entire trail, rather than allowing this "negative declaration" to stand its craven stance.

The Supervisors did not "certify" the Negative Declaration last Tuesday; Michael attended the hearing, and reports that County Counsel found reason to suspect that the Negative Declaration does not really meet adequate legal standards. There remains a window of opportunity to comment on this trail, a window extending to the next Supervisor's hearing, July 13, and during this time, comments can be submitted which will have legal standing, later, in a court of law. I will write more about this soon.

There is some chance the project will come to a halt without any litigation at all.

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