Sunday, July 6, 2008

Smarts Crossing

The number of historic public trails and roads which have been closed
to the public here in Placer County has grown too long to tell, at
least, in the course of such a count, it degenerates into a repetitive
whine: The Sky is Falling, and what's more, Life is Unfair.

Smarts Crossing is one of these historic public roads. A wagon road
led across the Bear River, from near Dutch Flat to the Liberty Hill
Mine, and Mule Springs, and Lowell Hill; once there was a bridge,
where an inner gorge holds a deep pool in its polished embrace ... one can still find the heavy iron pins set in the rock there, which
anchored the bridge, but some time, in the 1940s, the old bridge
washed way and was never replaced. On the Liberty Hill side, the road fell out of use and became overgrown; but on the Dutch Flat side, it was kept open, decade after decade, by local residents who loved to swim and dive in the long deep pool, and wander and explore up and down the river, and shiver while the hot canyon breezes swiftly dried the icy water from their bodies.

The Crossing derives its name from the Smart family of Dutch Flat, who once had a sawmill over on the Liberty Hill side.

As is usual, a complex of various parcels is crossed by the old road.
There are patches of Tahoe National Forest land in the canyon, around there, and also Bureau of Land Management lands: these are public lands. The road also crosses some PG&E land, land which I hope will become public land, as there is a settlement in the works, linked to the PG&E bankruptcy several years ago, a settlement which will transfer ownership of some thousands of acres of PG&E lands, to Tahoe National Forest.

And there is an ordinary private parcel, of some seventy acres,
through which the old road passes, on its way down to the sparkling
river. In the early 1980s, this parcel was sold, and the new owner was
quick to put up his "no trespassing" signs, quick to throw a gate
across the road, quick to turn people away at gunpoint.

Local residents banded together and filed a class action lawsuit in
the Superior Court in Auburn, maintaining that the Smarts Crossing
Road was a public road, and could not be closed. We could not have
done this without very substantial pro bono legal help, most notably
by Ed Stadum. We won our case. The road was re-opened. The seventy acres was sold, again, to a somewhat notorious real estate developer, which bodes no good, so far as continued public access to the glorious old swimming hole.

A few years ago, a second gate appeared on the road. A group of people at Smarts Crossing had been chased away by a sudden release of water from Drum Poerhouse, five miles up the canyon, and had complained to PG&E. Now, PG&E owns no part of Smarts Crossing itself; their lands lie rather high on the road, near its intersection with Drum Powerhouse Road. Nevertheless, PG&E decided that, in the interest of public safety, they would close the road.

Local residents complained about the closure, the gate, the sign, and
copies of the legal decision by the Superior Court were mailed to
PG&E's legal counsel. Eventually, in a show of compliance, PG&E went so far as to remove the lock. The gate remained, and it remained closed, but it was not locked.

This was not a welcome compromise, but at least public access was retained.

Recently I was informed that the PG&E gate boasted a brand new lock. Xanadu, for so I will style him, sent me a photograph of the lock. I am about paralyzed by anger and bitterness by all these closures of the historic trails and roads. I merely replied, to Xanadu, that, yes, it was indeed a lock. A large lock. My thoughts turned to an honored environmentalist of Dutch Flat, who advised me, years ago, to find a large pipe cutter, and trim the gate off at ground level.

Xanadu now informs me that, strangely, unaccountably, not only has the big lock disappeared, but the entire gate is gone!

Someone's heart is in the right place.

So far as the future, I regard it as essential that the PG&E lands near Smarts Crossing be transferred to Tahoe National Forest, and moreover, that the seventy acres which was involved in the original closure be purchased by Tahoe National Forest. The "recreational values" of that area (how I hate the language of the bureaucrats!) are too important to allow those lands to be given over to residential uses.

There are many many private parcels bordering Tahoe National Forest lands which must be purchased and merged with the Forest, IMHO. Some are entire sections, as at Four Horse Flat, on the Big Granite Trail, or at Wildcat Point, in the Royal Gorge. Some are tiny little parcels, once upon a time, who knows, patented mining claims. And some, as at Lost Camp, will likely require an Act of Congress, to adjust Forest boundaries.

And all this should be done without delay. I can't help but think that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on our war in Iraq might have been put to much better purposes.

But that is just more whining.

No comments: