Monday, May 14, 2007

Lost Camp; a Joke in New York Canyon

[written May 14, 2007]

Lost Camp is an old hydraulic mining town, south of Blue Canyon, established in a rush, in 1857 or thereabouts. No buildings are left, although two are shown on both the USGS 7.5 minute "Westville" quadrangle, and on the official Tahoe National Forest (TNF) map. I have a web page devoted to Lost Camp, see

The historic China Trail drops to the North Fork of the North Fork of the American from Lost Camp, and then climbs to the crest of Sawtooth Ridge, to the south. The trail was built in 1862. Forty-three years later, it was absorbed into TNF's system of trails. The old road to Lost Camp from Blue Canyon (Lost Camp actually predates Blue Canyon) has been open to the public since the 1850s.

Like many another old road and old trail, the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail pass through a mixture of private property, and public TNF lands. Ten years ago I began urging TNF to acquire the private lands at Lost Camp, and thus to secure public access to the China Trail. Nothing has been acquired, and we are now on the verge of losing access to road and trail alike.

Some of the private lands were subdivided and sold. The new owners wish the General Public would just go away forever; then the new owners could have the China Trail all to themselves. The summer before last, a "Private Road" sign appeared at the beginning of the Lost Camp spur road, near Blue Canyon. More recently, one of the new owners has been chasing people away at gunpoint, and trying to convince the other new owners to put a gate on the road.

I hear that Placer County does not regard the Lost Camp Road as a "county" road.

I thought to talk to TNF about the old road; after all, it shows on the old TNF maps, and is identified as TNF System Road "16N51," on the 1962-66 map. So I called Phil Horning at the Nevada City office, and spoke with him for about an hour, this afternoon.

Phil is currently much involved in TNF's OHV Study. Like other National Forests, the Tahoe is trying to regulate OHV use. This is a bureaucratic exercise of demonic and nightmarish proportions. It is an effort spanning several years. Now, I myself like our historic foot trails; I wish them to be preserved, protected, maintained, and put back on the maps--for hikers. Astoundingly, hardly any TNF employees have ever heard of these trails, and still less have they set foot on them.

I have been warned by sympathetic TNF employees, "Do not register your historic foot trails in the OHV study; if such a trail were to go on our map, it would (eventually) be designated an OHV route." So I have held my peace.

You see, the TNF OHV study will not examine each road and trail on its merits; TNF will not decree, "this trail is open to motorized uses, but that other trail is not." No. TNF will inventory all existing OHV routes, roads, trails, cross-country routes, whatever. Some few will be closed to OHV use, but most will become formally and explicitly open to OHV use; an Interim Order is about to be promulgated, which will add 50 miles of OHV routes to the existing two thousand miles or whatever it is.

When the final Decision is made, the most likely form it will take is that any and all roads, trails and routes now in use by OHVs will remain in use, *but* all further "cross-country" travel by OHVs will be illegal.

That is, at the bottom line, this vast bureaucratic exercise will in effect retain the status quo, but give TNF rangers more power to limit cross-country travel.

So. Back to Lost Camp. I was really interested in TNF's sense of whether the Lost Camp Road is a public road, or not; whether it is a TNF System Road, or not. I asked Phil, and I could hear the rustle of a large map unfolding through the telephone. It took a while to zero in on Lost Camp (Phil, despite twenty years at TNF, had never heard of the China Trail, never set foot in Lost Camp), and then he said, "Well, the road does not appear on the OHV Study Map at all."

How could that be? The Lost Camp Road is on the current official TNF "visitors'" map, the big map which unfolds to over two feet square.

I asked. Phil replied that, by its absence from the OHV Study Map, the implication is that TNF no longer considers it to be a System Road. Hence it does not appear on the map. And *hence* it will likely be closed to OHV use; for it has no formal standing, any more, as a Forest Road. It will count as "cross-country travel."

Note the conundrum here. Suppose we agitated the Lost Camp Road issue, and we went to TNF, and we said, "It is your job to conserve public access to public lands; you must keep the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail open to the public.

And suppose TNF listens, TNF agrees, TNF says, in effect, "Golly, you are right! It was once a System Road, and it shall forever be a System Road; the China Trail was once a System Trail, and it shall forever be a System Trail."

Oops! Now, like almost all System Roads and System Trails depicted on the OHV Study Map, the Lost Camp Road and the China Trail will be deemed "open" to OHV use!

Phil helped me sort out these imponderables.

He also told me an amusing story of a visit he made to the fabled New York Canyon and its giant waterfall, with John Skinner, at that time TNF's Forest Supervisor. John is on this email list, and may vouch for the veracity of the story.

According to Phil, they set out to find the giant waterfall, descending the ridge immediately east of the East Fork of New York Canyon. This eventually brought them to the top of the falls; but the cliffs there do not lend themselves to good views, so they made quite a scramble out of dropping below the falls, and then they climbed some kind of rocky eminence for a view.

They had some trouble descending from this eminence, and then were faced with the climb back up to the falls, and then, more climbing, up and up and up, to their vehicle. I mean, we're talking a couple thousand feet, maybe. This was a major effort, and the vicinity of the falls is rife with menacing cliffs. It is a dangerous place, and what's more, hardly anyone goes there. It really looks like no one has *ever* gone there. It is an amazing place.

So. They reached the top of the falls again, and Phil spotted some plastic flagging, some yellow flagging, tied to a tree. Below the flagging, he found a bottle nestled into a small cairn of rocks, and in the bottle was a message.

John and Phil were astounded. Who could have ever visited that place? And flagging! And a bottle! And a message in the bottle!

So they eagerly opened the bottle, and eagerly read the message.

It recorded a pleasant visit to the giant waterfall by such-and-such a *girl scout troop*!!!

After a time they came to realize that some TNF surveyors had visited that spot only days before; the surveyors had known of Supervisor Skinner's impending visit, and contrived a little joke.

At any rate, such is some news from Lost Camp and New York Canyon.

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