Rubicon Users Seek Trail Plan
By Chris Daley | Democrat staff writer | September 24, 2009 11:59

Stakeholders in the Rubicon Trail shared a lot of love last Wednesday night, Sept. 16, at a public forum hosted by the El Dorado County Department of Transportation. DOT staff and U.S. Forest Service personnel gave brief presentations, but the primary purpose was to gather public comment on the Rubicon Trail in general and the Little Sluice Box area in particular.

As many as 100 people packed the Board of Supervisors chambers, and many of them sported colorful shirts with their particular group’s logo.

Vickie Sanders, with the Chief Administrative Office, has been working on the issue since 2001. She explained in a phone call Monday that back in the early 1990s the Little Sluice was obstructed by large rocks and boulders that may have been dislodged by “extreme off-road” vehicles. Since that time, the Forest Service and later the county, in conjunction with volunteers from organizations, especially Friends of the Rubicon, and the Rubicon Trail Foundation, have maintained a bypass for regular off-road vehicles using that portion of the trail. Other user groups attending the meeting included Pirates of the Rubicon, Rubicon Rockheads and several suppliers and manufacturers of off-road equipment.

The problem at Little Sluice has been exacerbated as more super rock crawlers try to test their specially -modified machines against the jumble of boulders, sometimes wind up tipping over and reportedly spilling toxic fluids onto the surrounding rocks and ground, Sanders noted.

Rock crawling in Little Sluice has become a spectator sport attracting crowds that line the banks of the small canyon and cheer their favorite drivers and machines through the obstacle course of boulders.

The county Department of Transportation took over as the lead agency for the Rubicon Trail about a year ago. Prior to that, it was under the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, and before that the Forest Service had jurisdiction. The trail itself has been a county road since the late 1800s, and as such has been open to and available for public use. The annual Jeepers Jamboree, begun 56 years ago, helped make the trail a popular destination to off-road enthusiasts nationwide and even internationally.

Controversy has attended the trail for years, often pitting the off-roaders against so-called environmentalists. And earlier this year the state’s Central Valley Water Quality Control Board issued a draft order for the county to increase and improve its trail cleanup and maintenance efforts. That action resulted in a heightened effort by all parties to work together not only to address environmental issues but to assure that the trail stays open to all users.

Randy Burleson, president of the Rubicon Trail Foundation, opened the public portion of the meeting, saying the RTF “believes there are no easy answers to the issue of Little Sluice, but I’m stoked to see so many folks and volunteers here.”

Burleson also called for “an integrated agency to coordinate our efforts, especially avoiding destructive forms of management.”

Several Friends of the Rubicon advocated that a comprehensive plan be developed before any significant work or decisions are undertaken. Del Albright, longtime FOTR urged a “robust approach. It’s an ecosystem, and till we have a plan, I don’t support doing anything.”

He also applied a rubric of 3-E’s to the issue - Education, Engineering and Enforcement.

The immediate question concerns degradation of the area and what should be done about it.

Tom Celio, deputy director of the DOT threw out discussion questions that included, “Should it be left alone? Or should large rocks be removed? Or should the bypass be maintained as is, or changed in some way?”

Sentiment throughout the evening ran 10:1 in favor of not doing anything dramatic - yet.

One trail user recommended doing the cleanup and abatement ordered by the Water Control Board, keeping the bypass open and beefing up volunteerism, which already is fairly significant.

Steve Morris, a trail user and trail lover for 60 years, suggested refashioning the Sluice to make it passable once again for regular vehicles and said the “exhibitionists draw the crowds.”

Two representatives from state agencies expressed concern, one for the “adverse impacts of high use” on water quality. An employee with the Central Valley Water Board, said petroleum has penetrated the local soils, and sediment has silted up some of the waterways.

Daphne Greene, deputy director of the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of the state Department of Parks and Recreation, said she had been on the Rubicon a couple of days earlier. In her remarks, she gave both good news and bad news. The good news, “compared to two years ago, it’s a lot better, especially the amount of toilet paper daisies.” (The detritus of improper sanitation practices that have been a signal issue for years.)

The bad news: “We’ve got problems. The reality is it stinks, whether it’s 90-weight or whatever. We can’t say it’s fine. It’s not if that crap is going down the river. Whether we keep the rocks or not, we’ve got to clean it up. We’ve got to get law enforcement out there. And we can’t give up our efforts.”

Greene’s agency has been a major source of grant funding for various projects on the Rubicon.

Several in the audience returned to the theme of education and engineering and called stridently for more “good science” to be used in future planning, especially with respect to siltation of creeks and the effects of toxic spills.

DOT’s Celio acknowledged that it would be many weeks or a few months before his agency would be able to complete a comprehensive report both on the meeting and on plans for future action. He said he was very impressed with the tenor and passion and earlier said, “In my 30 years with the county, I’ve never seen such a dedicated group as the Rubicon users who actually get out and work for what they care so much about.”

E-mail Chris Daley at or call (530) 344-5063. Share your opinion.

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