July 24 (1981, 1987, 1999, 2003)
"Leave No Trace" timber harvesting (What a concept!)

7/24/81 After four showers in as many days I'm very clean. I tackled another project and fixed the main water tank at the spring. Ran some redwood 2x12 around the top and mortared the cracks. Now all I need is a 3'x5' piece of plywood for the door... also, I ran poly pipe the rest of the way to the garden. The gophers have been vicious this year. [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

7/24/87 [...]
Last night, I heard the same yowling which awoke me at dawn a week ago; I am now convinced that it is a bobcat. It is quite loud and cat-like, possibly mating.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

July 24, 1999

Saturday morning. Today I will meet Dave Lawler and we plan to explore near Culbertson Lake, north of Grouse Ridge, where the "Culbertson Lake Allochthon" of the Shoo Fly Complex is located. Glaciated terrain in old old metamorphic rock. Gay and the kids will probably come along for part of the way.


A couple of weeks ago I met Dave Lawler and took the Channel 3 news team, such as it was, to see the petrified wood at Dutch Flat, then on to Chalk Bluff and the You Bet diggings. Interviewed. Channel 3 totally botched the story (which was about the Petrified Wood Preserve at DF and Dave Lawler's misnamed Petrified Wood Preserve at You Bet). Oh well. For some reason I have been in the news lately, picture in the [Sacramento] Bee at Lovers Leap (also Greg at Iron Point), brief spot on Channel 5 SF, talking old mines, also some other stuff.

Still working hard on my Polychora notebook in Mathematica. Making sections and projections and hidden-detail-removed projections. Finding 3-space orthogonal to arbitrary vector. Making shadows etc. of the rectified regular polychora.

Took Bill Newsom and friends out to Sugar Pine Point old forest July 4, found another perfect arrowhead in exact same location as other two. Saw nice waterfalls over in Wildcat Canyon, now too late to see them in good form. Snow about gone.

Took kids up to south summit of Castle Peak a few weeks ago, snow ten feet deep on summit ridge.

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 08:14:04 -0800
To: Steven T Eubanks
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Destruction of Historic Trails
Cc: North Fork Trails

Dear Supervisor Eubanks,

Recently I wrote to complain about a new "no trespassing sign" on a road giving access to TNF lands near the Zeibright Mine, on the Bear River, said TNF lands containing a portion of the historic Towle Bros. Lumber Company narrow-gauge railroad roadbed, long in use as a trail connecting Bear River to Lowell Hill Ridge. It seems to me that TNF should act to protect public access to sites like this.

I also asked (in a subsequent letter) what the Tahoe National Forest policy is, with regard to historic trails. Such trails often pass back and forth between TNF lands and private lands. The private lands in many such cases are the old "Railroad" lands deeded to the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s. Much of these railroad lands have since passed into the ownership of lumber companies, such as Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI).

I did not receive a reply to this query regarding TNF trails policy. The "big" TNF map does remark, "Many of the forest trails in use today were originated by the Native Americans and early pioneers." This is as much as to say, many TNF trails pre-date acquisition of title by the Central Pacific Railroad. Such trails include trails actually recorded on early General Land Office maps, and trails not so recorded; and the same applies to subsequent maps published by the USGS: some of the historic trails were recorded on the maps, some were not.

Now, there are many legal decisions made in the courts of California and the United States at large which support the idea that the public has acquired an inviolable right to the continued use of such trails. Hence, one would expect TNF to protect public access to, and use of, historic foot trails; for these trails form a very important part of the recreational legacy, or recreational resources if you will, of Tahoe National Forest.

I know that once upon a time, TNF was much more active in affirming public rights to historic trails. For instance, where I live—near Alta, in Placer County—the historic Green Valley Trail descends to the North Fork American through private lands, which had belonged to the railroad. These lands were sold by Southern Pacific to certain individuals about 1935. Around 1955, perhaps 1960, these individuals closed the road leading to the trailhead with a gate. They were almost immediately informed by TNF rangers that the road and trail were public, and that the gate must be removed. The owners did remove the gate.

This is what TNF should be doing in such cases. Yet somehow, in the decades since, TNF policy has changed drastically. I cannot say what the present policy might be. Whatever it is, it apparently combines two basic premises:

Premise 1: The public has no right to use historic public trails which cross private property.

Premise 2: Timber harvests, and road-building, often in collaboration with lumber companies, take precedence over every other of the "multiple" uses of TNF lands, and in particular, over public use of historic foot trails.

I have called your attention, in the past, to instances of the destruction of historic foot trails by timber harvests and road-building. Often both TNF lands and the old railroad lands, now owned by lumber companies, are involved in the timber harvests and road-building. As I recall, among the specific trails I have called to your attention in the past are the following:

1. Big Valley Trail, from Mears Meadow to Pelham Flat. Utterly destroyed.

2. Sugar Pine Point Trail, from north of Pelham Flat, south to Sugar Pine Point, and on into what was once called Sugar Pine Flat, which is now within the Sugar Pine Point Research Natural Area. Utterly destroyed, except for the most-southerly trail reach leading into Sugar Pine Flat.

3. Lost Camp/China Trail, from Lost Camp on the north, to Burnett Canyon and Texas Hill on the south. Utterly destroyed over most of its length on the Sawtooth Ridge side of the North Fork of the North Fork American. Intact, but unmarked and unsigned, on the Lost Camp side. Note: private lands at the trailhead should be acquired by TNF.

Yesterday I explored portions of the Mears Meadow-Lake Valley Trail, and also the trail which forks away to the west and drops into Monumental Creek; let us call this the Monumental Creek Trail. There are other historic trails in the area, too, such as the trail along the crest of Monumental Ridge, which once led past Big Valley Bluff to Sawtooth Ridge. These trails are within Placer County, on and around Monumental Ridge. The Mears-Lake Valley Trail, between Lake Valley and the summit plateau of Monumental Ridge is currently maintained by TNF.

Around half-way from Lake Valley up to the broad upland on the summit of Monumental Ridge, an old TNF sign is propped up beside this maintained trail. The words "Mears Meadow" and "Big Valley" and "Monumental Creek" are combined with arrows pointing up the trail.

I may save a lot of words by giving the results of my explorations as follows:

1. Trail to Mears Meadow from north side, Monumental Ridge (end of maintained trail): largely destroyed by timber harvests, road-building, construction of log landings. Only a few blazes are left to mark its course; some, perhaps many, of the blazed trees having been cut down. At Mears Meadow I could not find the eastward continuation of this trail.

2. Trail to Monumental Creek forking from Trail 1 above. At first, this old trail traverses a wet meadowy upland, with a lightly-logged forest of red fir and lodgepole pine. A few blazes remain to mark its westward course. As it approaches a pass giving access into Monumental Canyon, it is obliterated by a logging road. Where it used to descend to Monumental Creek, logging has utterly erased every shred of the trail, and only a few blazes can be found to establish what its course had been. The steep slopes were churned up by bulldozers, yarding huge old fir trees. In every case where I hoped that, however briefly, I had set foot on some part of the actual trail, I could not be sure that it was not just a bulldozer skid trail.

Now, of all the many timber harvests in this area, some are on TNF lands, and among these are harvests which amount to clear-cuts, although they may have been given different names. It is absolutely clear that, just as with the Sugar Pine Point Trail and the Big Valley Trail, no effort at all was made to preserve these historic trails.

In the meantime, TNF and, presumably, SPI, took pains, and made every effort, to remove nearly as much of the old-growth forest as possible, cutting down hundreds of trees which were hundreds of years old. I will say that, for the most part, the TNF harvests were done some little bit more responsibly, and left more patches of large trees behind, than I saw on the private lands. It looks as though most of the harvests took place within the past twenty years.

Now, this is part of the Placer County High Country. How I wish we still had those fine old trails and fine old forests. When I think of the huge Red Firs cut down, or of those gigantic Incense Cedars down in Big Valley, trees which took hundreds of years to grow, I am shocked, and cannot quite believe that such decisions were ever made. For, I cannot wait 500 years for the big old trees to grow back; nor can my son and daughter wait that long, nor their descendants, down to who knows how many generations.

Surely there must be some actual TNF policy which rationalizes the outright obliteration of historic trails, and the outright obliteration of the very recreational values which had kept such trails in use: lovely forests of gigantic and ancient trees; incredible views of the peaks and canyons surrounding Monumental Ridge, from the Sierra Buttes to the north to Carson Pass on the south, from Castle Peak on the east to the Coast Ranges on the west; meadows lush with flowers, and rich with springs; and much and varied wildlife, reflecting the varied microclimates and vegetational patterns.

Whatever that actual TNF policy is, it must be changed.

Along the Sugar Pine Point Trail, the Big Valley Trail, the Mears Meadow Trail and the Monumental Creek Trail, an intermixture of private lands with TNF lands certainly complicates TNF management of the area. Here again, I myself hope that TNF can purchase these private inholdings. I look toward a day when these historic trails can be restored, for foot use and equestrian use, and when many of the logging roads, often so recently constructed, can be closed and revegetated.

Finally, it occurs to me that timber can be harvested with much less impact upon soils and trails, etc. For instance, just as the TNF "big" map advocates "No Trace" camping, we should strive for "No Trace" timber harvests. In a place like Monumental Ridge, I can imagine harvests being done in the winter, with all felling and yarding done in the snow, possibly waiting until spring or summer to haul the logs away. Burn the slash, cut the stumps down to ground level and burn them, and you would have something rather close to a "No Trace" timber harvest.

Summarizing, I want TNF to protect historic trails and public access to historic trails. I want less motorized uses and more foot and equestrian uses. I want TNF to acquire very many of the private inholdings, and to develop a Plan to purchase these private lands, with a guiding sense of priorities, of which lands are most important, which least important.

Thanks for your consideration of these matters.


Russell Towle

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