[Russell Towle's journal]
“6/7/81 Mid-day. Filmy cirrus clouds grace the sky. [...] Yesterday I was expecting to see a rattlesnake as I hiked about. Today, only a few strides into the walk from car to cabin, there one was, waiting, rattling, and then quickly slithering into the tall grasses. My heart raced as I debated whether to kill it or not. Rattlesnake paranoia has its season every year. The debate had the same old result: I watched it go, thinking, “Rattlesnake, I have spared you and your kind—spare me and mine.” As always, I wondered if I was a fool not to kill it.
Several Phantom Orchids still in bloom, but most have withered.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
“6/7/84 cloudy, foggy canyon, wet morning…
I took the Lovers Leap petition down to the County yesterday, as Ed and I were rained out. The Supervisors' clerk, Georgia Flake, was uncertain as to procedure in such a case, so no specific spot on the agenda has been set yet.”
[Russell Towle's journal]
Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2001 09:31:26 -0800
From: Russell Towle
Subject: House at Iron Point; hearing
Cc: [list of recipients]
There is a little more than week to go before the hearing before the Planning Commission (PC), regarding the proposed house above Iron Point. The hearing is on Thursday, June 14 at 10:30 A.M. at the PC chambers on the end of the building at Avenue B (or C) and Richardson in DeWitt Center. The PC will hear testimony at the hearing, with a three-minute limit. They will also accept letters regarding this matter. Address letters to
Placer County Planning Commission
11414 "B" Avenue
Auburn CA 95603
re: Caretaker's Residence at Iron Point (MUP-2643)
Here is some background concerning this matter:
The parcel in question is 48 acres in size. It is within the main canyon of the North Fork of the American river, the canyon which historically was known as The American River Canyon, or as simply The Great American Canyon. The railroad, built in this area in 1866, passes through the uppermost, northernmost part of the 48 acres. The views of the canyon from the railroad are especially fine, including Lovers Leap and Giant Gap, where cliffs stand nearly 2500 feet above the river. It is these views which earned the North Fork canyon its special name. Thomas Moran (famous 19th-century landscape painter) made an etching of the view of Giant Gap from the railroad. These views of the North Fork were also the subject of many photographs taken in the 1860s by famous photographers such as Hart and Eadward Muybridge. The view was regarded as the finest along the entire 3000 miles of the Pacific Railroad. It was described in many books and magazines and newspapers of the day.
There are other scenic overlooks in this area, such as Iron Point, which lies within a few hundred feet of the southern boundary of the 48 acres. Also found here is the head of the Euchre Bar Trail, a Tahoe National Forest (TNF) trail which gives access to the North Fork American. This is a very popular trail. People value this area for its wildness and its beauty, not for its houses.
The North Fork American received designation as both a State and a Federal Wild & Scenic River in the 1970s. In the late 1970s, Placer County embarked upon the "precise zoning" of this area. Taking cognizance of the wilderness and scenic values in the canyon near Giant Gap and Iron Point, under Fred Yeager of the Planning Department, an unheard-of 320-acre minimum parcel size was applied to parts of the canyon. The 48 acres at Iron Point—surrounded on three sides by TNF land—was given a non-residential TPZ (Timber Production Zone) zoning, in an explicit attempt to prevent residential development and preserve open space near Iron Point. This zoning was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1979. It should be emphasized that while TPZ zoning is named for timber production, its intent was largely to preserve open space and limit suburban sprawl. It was intended to be the "forested area" version of the Williamson Act. Properties with TPZ zoning are exempt from property taxes on standing timber; thus an owner of timbered lands is not forced to cut the timber to meet property tax obligations. A tax is paid only if the timber is harvested. TPZ zoning language is specific that the intent of the zoning includes preservation of open space, protection of wildlife, and preservation of recreational opportunities.
Ordinarily, to get TPZ zoning a parcel must be at least 160 acres in size. However, if contiguous parcels also have TPZ zoning, and in aggregate the parcels add to more than 160 acres, then the smaller parcel may be zoned TPZ. This is the case here, where the 48 acres is almost surrounded by TNF lands, apparently regarded as de facto TPZ-zoned lands. This brushy, lightly-timbered 48-acre parcel is classified as "Site Class V," the lowest possible ranking for timberlands, in terms of potential timber production. Although TPZ zoning is non-residential, an exception can be made for a "caretaker's residence," when 24-hour timber management must take place. This requires a Minor Use Permit.
The 48 acres has an upper, northern, more heavily forested portion, closer to the railroad, and a lower, southern, brushy section, near Iron Point. It is owned by Ron Chancellor. The applicant for the Minor Use Permit, Linda Carruthers, does not own the property. Her purchase of it is contingent upon obtaining permission to build a house there. She has a degree in Forestry and claims she wants to "manage the timber" on the 48 acres. She wants to build a 2000-square-foot house with 500 square feet of deck, on the brushy slopes facing south into the North Fork Canyon, directly above Iron Point.
After a hearing on April 4, 2001, and after receiving six or seven or so letters objecting to permitting a house on the site, Zoning Administrator Bill Combs approved the Minor Use Permit. I filed an appeal within 10 days of Combs' written decision (which cost $390). The appeal will be heard by the Planning Commission. If they approve the Minor Use Permit (and deny the appeal), and other attempts to rescind the Minor Use Permit fail (i.e., before the BOS), then, if the matter goes before the courts, the legal arguments may be limited to what issues were raised in the hearing on June 14 (or in letters submitted to the PC before then).
Tim Woodall took the time to look over the TPZ language, CEQA, and parts of the Placer County Code relevant to Bill Combs' decision granting the Minor Use Permit. Of this, Tim wrote:
>I see the hearing before the Planning Commission has been scheduled for June 14
>at 10:30 a.m. I will try to be there if my schedule allows it. Several issues
>jump out at me based on a quick perusal of the Placer County Code and CEQA:
> 1) The CEQA "categorically exempt" finding is based on a statutory
>exemption for new construction of single family residences. However, this
>exemption does not apply if the project site is in an environmentally sensitive
>location (CEQA Guidelines section 15300.2; Placer County Code section
>18.36.020); the Zoning Administrator's findings do not expressly address this
>issue. I would urge making the strongest possible showing that the proposed
>location of the caretaker's residence is in a particularly sensitive
> 2) The finding that the project is "consistent with all applicable
>provisions of Sections 5.160 and 15.260 of the Placer County Zoning Ordinance"
>is subject to debate. Section 15.260 of the Zoning Ordinance (Placer County
>Code section 17.56.090) authorizes caretaker housing on TPZ land only where the
>principal use of the property "requires twenty-four (24) hour oversight."
>The Zoning Administrator's findings include no express finding in this regard.
>My question: what is it about timber production on a 48 acre parcel that
>"requires" 24 hour oversight?
Tim raises excellent questions here. It seems clear enough to me at any rate that this "caretaker's residence" is simply a ploy to allow construction of a house in one of the most scenic and wild areas of Placer County.
The rich and unusual architecture of the North Fork canyon—the Great American Canyon—in this area has attracted visitors for over a hundred years. Actually, for thousands of years, since the ravaged Indian village site at the springs at Casa Loma shows indications of great antiquity. Placer County itself intended that this property not have residential uses. Tahoe National Forest has been pursuing a program of land acquisitions in the North Fork American for years, in an attempt to preserve the wildness and scenic qualities of the great canyon. Placer County has formally expressed its support for the TNF land acquisition objectives, and has itself, under the aegis of the Placer Legacy, contemplated an active role in these acquisitions. Tahoe National Forest is interested in acquiring the 48-acre parcel.
The Blue Canyon deer herd uses this area as part of its winter range. Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, bears, and mountain lions call this area home, as do golden eagles. The manzanita cloaking much of the 48 acres is an important wildlife resource, but even more important is the absence of human residence in the area. A single house can have a substantial impact upon wildlife.
The North Fork of the American river canyon is a precious part of Placer County's and California's heritage. Its wildness and scenery should be preserved intact. No amount of possible increased timber production on the 48 acres, resulting from construction of a caretaker's residence and timber management, can justify residential construction within this great canyon.
Stephanie Austin-Goodman and Larry Hilberg have also offered excellent suggestions about the upcoming hearing. Larry thinks that the fact that the applicant for the Minor Use Permit is not the owner of the property ought to weigh against Placer County approval of the proposed residence. Stephanie suggested that I write letters to each member of the Planning Commission, and also wrote:
>My only other suggestion is that we arrange to have a very large public turnout at the June 14 hearing; people from as diverse a background as possible ready with a 3-minute statement, which gets submitted as part of the public record. Do you have any excellent photos of the area which we can also leave behind?
So, once again it is important to write letters (address at top). And it is important to attend the hearing. With many thanks for your consideration of these matters,
|John Krogsrud and Rex|
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Bridge Repaired
This morning John Krogsrud, his friend Rex, and my son Greg and I hiked into Canyon Creek with some tools and repaired the bridge. We stripped off the old, delaminated plywood, and installed the three new pressure-treated 2X6s John bought for the bridge a couple weeks ago.
The flowers remain in fine form, with the Clarkia biloba now in full bloom, and the Notch-petaled Monkeyflower still exuberant. Great patch of white Phantom Orchids up on the Bluffs.
We visited the Overlook of the Blasted Digger, and then, on the way out, followed up the creek itself, past many little pools and falls, some Foothill Yellow-Legged Frogs, and nice flowers growing from cracks in the polished bedrock. Greg slipped in and got his feet wet, then slipped and got his pants wet, then slipped and got his shirt wet, then just waded up through the pools and little falls. I went swimming at the nice pool by the Oxbow, where the creek doubles back on itself, a little upstream of the big tunnel.
|Wandering Daisy |
Date: Sat, 7 Jun 2003 07:19:49 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Visit to Canyon Creek
At noon Friday I met Mark Landgraf of the American River Conservancy (ARC) and took him on a tour of the Gold Run Diggings, the Canyon Creek Trail, and Lovers Leap. ARC has been working closely with the Folsom office of the BLM to acquire private inholdings along the very popular South Fork of the American River. Due to the fine efforts of Patty McCleary, ARC is now looking at the North Fork American. Several acquisition objectives are under consideration:
1. Part or all of the 800 acres in the Gold Run Diggings area, including the private land containing the Canyon Creek Trail. Some of this acreage lies within the special Gold Run Addition to the North Fork American Wild & Scenic River, as established by Congress in 1978.
2. 40 acres at the west end of Green Valley, north of the river, and almost directly across from the Gold Ring Mine, and within the W&SR corridor.
3. Several moderately large parcels within the canyon near and to the west of Fords Bar, and within the W&SR corridor.
4. A trail easement from Canyon Creek to Lovers Leap, along the rim of the canyon in Giant Gap.
We first drove out Garrett Road, which parallels the Diggings on the west, to BLM lands at The Bluffs, where a fine forest of large pines stands on gently rolling to flat terrain, which abruptly breaks away in a line of cliffs, left by hydraulic mining, facing into the huge pit of the Gold Run Ditch & Mining Co. At the bottom of the pit two shafts drop into large tunnels which converge, after a thousand feet or so, into one humongous tunnel which leads to Canyon Creek. The tunnels were fitted with sluice boxes and much of the millions of cubic yards of gravel mined from the pit flowed through these tunnels, and on down Canyon Creek through a series of other sluice boxes, to the North Fork. In 1881, three to five thousand cubic yards per day left the Diggings by this route.
So, Mark and I walked to the edge of the Bluffs and gazed out over the Diggings and down into the pit. Then we headed back to I-80 and to the "secret" road into the Diggings behind Heistercamp's, drove in to the Main Diggings Road, and followed it a mile south to the Paleobotanist Trail and the head of the Canyon Creek Trail, in little Potato Ravine. Along the way we detoured farther south to visit the more northern shaft in the GRD&M pit. The entire 400-foot-thick section of Eocene-age (55 m.y.) sediments of the ancient river had been mined away, exposing the very bedrock floor of the old channel.
|Russell Towle, leading the way down the Canyon Creek Trail.|
Photo by Mark Landgraf.
At the river, one last waterfall plunges into a perfect pool, and a pair of Water Ouzels were actively feeding their babies in a nest near the base of the falls. We both took a swim. At first the water of Canyon Creek felt quite cold. I even called it "horrible," as I literally inched into the pool. After a swim over to look at the nest, I walked the few yards down to the North Fork itself, still flowing very high and fast from the snow-melt. I managed to stand with one foot in Canyon Creek and one foot in the North Fork, and it was then that I fully realized that Canyon Creek is, in fact, warm; the North Fork is cold. Very cold.
A slow march up the trail brought us back to my ratty little Toyota pickup with its laundry list of failed systems and idiosyncrasies (passenger-side window does not open, gas gauge does not work, engine stalls at idle speeds when warm, etc. etc. etc. etc.). It was 4:40 p.m. We drove back to the Monte Vista Inn where Mark's car had been stashed, and from there headed out to Moody Ridge and Lovers Leap.
We parked at the turn-around at the very end of Lovers Leap Road, and started down the trail to the Leap. Two ATV's were parked a ways down the trail. This is wrong. It may be about time to establish a vehicle closure on that last hundred yards of Lovers Leap Road. There is plenty of parking just before the road makes the short climb to the turn-around.
The men who owned the giant toys passed us as we descended the trail. Mark had never been to Lovers Leap, had never seen the North Fork Canyon, never imagined Giant Gap. As we began to break out of the forest into the brush tiny glimpsed of the Grand Abyss, the infinite blue depths, began to give him pause.
Then there is the cliff, with its one lovely little bulwark of solid rock, and a vast vastness of canyon, stretching away mile after mile to the high country, where Snow Mountain and Tinkers Knob preside over the upper North Fork. Other peaks to the north, such as Old Man Mountain and Grouse Ridge, are visible, as is Little Bald Mountain, more to the south, near Robinson Flat. Actually, from the parking area one can see the Crystal Range, and of course on a clear day, the Leap itself offers a very fine view to the southwest and Mt. Diablo.
|The Pinnacles ridge, south arm of Giant Gap.|
Such was a nice day of hiking and swimming and visiting cliffs large and small.