June 26 (1982, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005)
Trail Obliteration

6/26/82 A lovely morning, the grosbeaks singing, a canyon wren too, the canyon a Maxfield Parrish blue-and-gold-and purple.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 07:44:04 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Additions to Lost Camp page

Hi all,

I made some minor additions to the Lost Camp page, possibly worth a look, including the 1889 short story by Mary Willis Glascock, "The Grizzly," about a gold mine at Lost Camp (though she does not identify it by name, only mentioning it to be below Blue Canyon, and on the trail to the American River).

[Now archived at:
http://northforktrails.com/RussellTowle/NorthFork/Lost_Camp/Lost_Camp.html ]

Russell Towle

Below is a digital file found on Russell's computer dated 6/26/02, pertinent to Russell's concerns for the North Fork canyon; obliteration of historic and prehistoric trails by careless logging practices

by Len Gardner

ALPS has joined The Mountaineers and the Washington Trails Association in calling attention to a growing crisis with the release of "Washington's Endangered Hiking Trails." Despite ever-escalating public demand for accessible day hikes, and trails leading to popular protected national parks and wilderness areas, Washington's trails currently enjoy no protection under state forestry laws. Hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail south of I-90 has been likened to traveling through "a war zone" by ALPS Trustee Liz Tanke. Many other areas in the Alpine Lakes checkerboard, such as Kachess Ridge and French Cabin Creek, have been hard-hit too.

"Hiking trails are being hammered by logging operations with no regard for their destructive impacts on public trails that pass through state and private forest lands," said Peter Goldman, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Law Center (WFLC). Goldman continued, "We don't allow 50-story high-rise buildings in single family residential neighborhoods, why should we allow certain logging practices to obliterate trails and scenic corridors?" Current regulations ignore trails despite language in the 1974 Washington Forest Practices Act which clearly states that a viable timber industry must also protect "recreational and scenic values." As a result we have lost hundreds of miles of trails in the past few decades.

WFLC, representing ALPS and the Mountaineers, will file a rules petition with the State to address the issue. It will call on Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher and the Forest Practice Board (FPB) to adopt "trail-friendly" forest practice rules to protect the recreational and scenic value of public hiking trails which cross private land.

The "Endangered Trails" report, a copy of the petition for trails-friendly rules, and a list of resources including experts on recreational aesthetics, wilderness and trails, state and federal parks and lands management is available by calling Environmental Media Services at 206/374-7795.

Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2002 13:53:38 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Sugar Pine Point Trail

Hi all,

This morning I cajoled my son Greg, almost 11 years in age, to come with me on a reconnaissance of the ruined section of the Sugar Pine Point Trail, from where it forks away from the Big Granite Trail north of Pelham Flat, south to where it descends to the "little pass north of Sugar Pine Point," from which pass it is almost intact, as it continues south into the Ancient Forest. I stored "waypoints" onto my GPS unit every 300 or 400 feet along the trail, going from my geo-referenced Cisco Grove and Duncan Peak 7.5-minute high-resolution DRG quads.

The sad thing is, that only a couple decades ago, this area was all "ancient forest." For my own part I don't see why any logging was ever allowed in there. Land ownership is in the typical checkerboard pattern, every odd-numbered section, by and large, being the old "railroad lands" granted to the CPRR by President Lincoln. The railroad lands were sold to lumber companies, just a few years back. Now, the Sugar Pine Point Trail, I believe, pre-dates that land grant. There should be no question that it is a public trail and an historic trail.


I find that the BLM is trying to restrict grazing by some Paiutes or Shoshones or something on some BLM lands in Nevada. Now, for my own part, I see a lot too much public land given over to grazing—some rich rancher is turning rare wildflowers into hamburger at the public's expense—and tho, in this particular case, it's not exactly that situation (replace "rich rancher" with "moderately wealthy Native American"), I still would like to see the cows restricted more than they are. But the Native American litigant posed an interesting question: "Show me," he asked, "the document by which title to the land was transferred from the Indians to the Federal Government." Of course there is no such document. Nor is there any such document for any land in Placer County, and in particular, for the lands which President Lincoln gave to the railroad magnates. That is to say, do a careful and precise title search and you will find that there was no legal transfer of title from the Maidu to any government entity (nor to any private party). But I digress.

Suppose that one concedes that, yes, timber harvests should have taken place on that ridge—the ridge dividing Little Granite Creek on the east from Big Valley on the west; the Sugar Pine Point ridge—well, then, how does it follow that an historic public trail should be utterly and completely ruined, to the extent that it must be rebuilt from scratch, or rather, even worse, rebuilt through an almost impenetrable maze of logging skid trails and slash? Who was it who decided, "On this ridge, people walking are 'out', yahoos in 4WD trucks throwing Budweiser cans every which way are 'in', and bulldozers are allowed to scramble up and down and left and right over every square inch of forest"?

So, here is what we found.

From Pelham Flat north to the Big Granite Trail, the Sugar Pine Point Trail is almost intact, tho bulldozers have scrambled up and down it and across it, and in the last quarter mile before it hits the Big Granite Trail, a road was cut directly into its line. I say, "intact," because, although it is pretty much invisible, at least it is not blocked outright by logging slash, and one can actually walk along the original line of the trail. Around Pelham Flat, it stays just uphill from the masses of Corn Lilies fringing the marsh. In a few places it is blocked up by brush. It could, fairly easily, be opened and restored.

From Pelham Flat south to the "little pass north of Sugar Pine Point," the trail has been wrecked into oblivion. Every large tree which might have held a blaze has been felled. Every part of the forest has been criss-crossed by bulldozers. Slash covers the line of the trail in many places. Still, using the GPS, we were able to follow its course, as it slowly climbs past a wet meadow full of Corn Lilies and little Lewisia triphyllum, crosses the divide to the east side—some nice views of Snow Mountain—and then wanders down past more wet meadows. Everywhere along the line of the old trail we found signs that the bears still use it, even tho there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to show that a trail ever existed.

After a long gentle descent the trail merges with the "main road," around a half-mile past where one turns off to drive to the "little pass north of Sugar Pine Point." It coincides, fairly closely I think, with that section of road, then suddenly splits away to the south, dropping the last little ways to the pass; I walked that section years ago; it was turned into a bulldozer skid trail.

It would take a lot of people with chainsaws a lot of time to open up the Sugar Pine Point Trail south from Pelham Flat. Then a lot of dirt would have to be moved, to restore the grade.

This is much as I had feared. At Pelham Flat, the historic Big Valley Trail forks away to the west. It too has been utterly wrecked and obliterated. One of the book I have published about the history of Dutch Flat is the diary of I.T. Coffin, a gold-miner and photographer. In 1870, he records a hike across Big Valley which must have followed this trail. Like the Sugar Pine Point Trail, it must be an old Indian trail; there is a chert quarry along the Big Valley Trail, for instance, among other artifacts from the Indians.


Russell Towle

Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2003 09:20:42 -0800
To: Supervisor Eubanks and Archeologist Slater, TNF
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Public access to TNF lands and trails

Dear Forest Supervisor Eubanks, and Archaeologist Slater,

I have long been concerned about loss of historic trails and loss of public access to such trails, within Tahoe National Forest. Recently I observed another example of such loss. In Section 34, T17N R11E, is the Zeibright Mine. This is located on the Nevada County side of the Bear River. A road continuing into TNF lands in Section 4, T16N R11E, forks to the right as one approaches the Zeibright gates, and passes by the mine portal and stamp mill site before dropping into TNF lands near a forested flat. Here one could park and hike on the old Towle Brothers Railroad. Now this road has been cabled closed with "No Trespassing" signs.

I believe this road is a public road; it gives access to an important part of Tahoe National Forest (TNF), and TNF should take action to see that the cable and signs are removed.

The historic Towle Brothers Railroad (TBRR), of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, crossed the Bear River near the Zeibright. I have suggested that this old railroad grade might well be made into a trail connecting Highway 80 at Drum Forebay to Highway 20 near Skillman Flat. Howsoever, in the course of exploring the TBRR in the 1990s, I found that the reach from Bear River to Lowell Hill Ridge had been in use as an ad hoc trail for a long time.

I was quite surprised to see, in 1999, trees marked for harvest along this reach of the TBRR. Much of the area showed no signs of having ever been logged, and the remarkable dry-laid stone walls along the railroad and also along an old mining ditch, the use of this part of the TBRR as a trail, and the location, on the north wall of the Bear River canyon, had all suggested to me that no timber harvests would be planned.

I spoke with Bob Cary and found that this "project" had escaped my attention, even though I receive the Quarterly report on actions planned by TNF, and that the period for public comment had ended. I have since been afraid to visit the area. I went there for the first time since 1999 last Sunday, June 22. After letting myself through the cable, my son and I, with a couple of friends, started up the TBRR. I saw that the timber harvest had been quite light. However, great quantities of slash and fallen trees had blocked the TBRR. After about half a mile we turned back.

I would have thought care would have been taken not to block the TBRR, since TNF was well aware of its existence.

I do not know who put the cable and signs on the little road into Section 4; perhaps the current owners of the Zeibright Mine did so. I would support an off-road-vehicle closure for those TNF lands in Section 4, and possibly a hunting and camping closure, if this would help convince those who closed the old road to let it remain open.

With hopes that TNF can restore public access to this very interesting area, I am,


Russell Towle

Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2003 13:13:59 -0800
To: "Steven T Eubanks"
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Re: Public access to TNF lands and trails

Dear Supervisor Eubanks, you wrote,

> Thank you for your information. I am passing your message on to
>District Ranger Vivian Kee who is the appropriate contact for this issue.
>In regard to the road closure and public access issue, I think the District
>can probably answer. The section of land you list is shown on my map as
>being privately owned, so that may complicate the matter.

Thank you.

However, what of the Forest-wide issue of historic trails?

Isn't it obvious that any number of roads and trails within Tahoe National Forest involve private lands to some degree, such as the Lost Camp Trail to the North Fork of the North Fork American, of which I have written to you in the past? I am interested in discovering what the exact policy of TNF is with regard to such roads and trails. I assume there actually is such a policy, and that there is some legal basis upon which the policy was formed, an opinion, perhaps, written by an attorney in the employ of the Department of Agriculture.

Around 1985 I asked a TNF lands officer whether TNF had ever gone to court to protect public access to, and use of, an historic trail. The one and only instance he could cite was a case in which TNF joined with Bohemia Lumber Company to secure access to timber (in the Coldstream Canyon area, as I recall).

This seems rather strange to me.

One solution to the problem of private inholdings is to purchase such inholdings. Recently I asked a TNF employee if there was a Forest-wide plan with regard to private inholdings; whether they were prioritized, in terms of their possible acquisition. He replied in the negative. I asked whether the very large land holdings of PG&E, within TNF, were being evaluated in such terms—that is, for their potential recreational value, or for importance in maintaining a trail network—for these PG&E lands, it has been rumored, may go up for sale. He replied in the negative.

Now I find that the Royal Gorge X-Country resort has purchased PG&E lands at Kidd Lake and at Summit Meadow/Lake Van Norden. Earlier (ca. 1985) land acquisitions by the Royal Gorge resort resulted in the immediate posting of "No Trespassing" signs on all my favorite ski tours in the upper North Fork American basin. Apparently a new round of "No Trespassing" signs are about to go up.

The future of Tahoe National Forest and its historic trails hinges upon the fate of the private inholdings, especially, of course, the old railroad lands, and the PG&E lands, but also the many many smaller holdings, which were once, perhaps, mining claims.

I advocate protection and even enhancement of wilderness values in TNF. I support foot use of the old historic foot trails, not bike use or OHV use. I want our scenery preserved for future generations. Especially, I find the North Fork American river canyon, and its basin at large, worthy of special care and protection.


Russell Towle

Nary Red Meadow
June 26, 2005

Indian Paintbrush and Sierra Morning Glory
Prehistoric Grinding Holes
Yellow And White Monkeyflower
(Mimulus bicolor)

Deltoid Balsamroot
(Balsamorhiza deltoidea)
Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleia laxa)

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