Crime, late-night parties and fires, dumped cars, off-road accidents and promiscuous shooting are just some of the headaches local deputies regularly encounter in the Greenhorn Creek area of Nevada County.
They're getting fed up.
"We have had several reports of rapes, people not wearing their helmets, riding too close, accidents, beer bottles everywhere," Nevada County Sheriff's Cpl. Walt Jones said. "We're called out there many times over the year."
A memorial cross and flowers at the edge of a steep cliff at Greenhorn Creek for Brandon Alcala - a 19-year-old Grass Valley man who died from injuries he suffered while four-wheeling there last March - offers a reminder of the area's dangers.
Off-roaders have enjoyed the Greenhorn area for many decades, drawn by the mountains of gravel left by hydraulic gold mining. Miners staked out surface and underground mines as early as 1861, and by 1870, "they were doing a great deal of hydraulic mining out there ... around Red Dog and You Bet," said historian Edwin Tyson, of the Searls Library for historic materials in Nevada City. The 1883 Sawyer decision outlawed the extremely damaging practice, Tyson added.
But responsible off-roaders are not the problem, officials said. Rather, it's the vandals who go to the late-night raves, get drunk and burn stolen vehicles that ruin the area for the rest of the off-road community.
"We want (vandals) to know we're out there paying attention to unlawful activities," Jones said.
Residents in the Greenhorn area called the sheriff's office five times between Oct. 21 and Dec. 2 to report shooting, according to sheriff's logs.
"(Vandals) dump their junk and then they use it for target practice," said Miriam Limov, of the South Yuba River Citizen's League. "Greenhorn is out of the way, therefore they can get away with it."
Volunteers with the South Yuba River Citizen's League and Friends of Greenhorn clean up the junk that vandals dump in the watershed on a regular basis.
"People dump big stuff out there - cars, washing machines, dryers, stereos, mattresses and furniture," Limov said. "Anything from a dumped vehicle is going to contaminate the water system. So we send strong guys out there every year with large trucks to haul it out."
Deputies respond to the reports of shooting, and often arrive to find their suspects long gone. But they do find smoldering fires left behind, which the fire department must extinguish.
Deputies have hidden in the forest and ambushed several parties, trying to cut down on the illegal behavior.
They plan to beef up patrols in the area, as well, Jones said.
The land in the Greenhorn area is primarily private land, Jones said, with some smaller segments of land owned by the Tahoe National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management.
Regardless of who owns the land, sheriff's deputies and search and rescue volunteers must respond to calls of illegal activity and to rescue stranded 4WD enthusiasts.
Deputies said they plan to enforce all laws, including vehicle codes, to cut down on illegal activity, and they will use whatever personnel they can to maintain a law enforcement presence in the area.
The Sheriff's Office uses funds from a state off-highway vehicle grant to increase patrols. Jones recently applied for a second grant.
"We patrol on the weekends and on weekdays," Jones said. "In addition to deputies, we can use reserve officers and search and rescue volunteers. We'll do whatever we can."
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4236.
9:21 p.m., Oct. 21 - A caller reported hearing shooting in the Greenhorn Creek area. Deputies were unable to locate the source of the shooting.
9:18 p.m., Nov. 13 - A caller from Greenhorn Creek reported people were shooting in the area for about one hour. Deputies checked the area, and all was quiet.
5:24 p.m., Nov. 18 - A caller from Greenhorn Creek reported hearing multiple shots fired.
3:28 a.m., Nov. 28 - A caller from Greenhorn Creek reported shooting in the canyon. A patrol deputy was advised.
10:16 a.m., Dec. 2 - A caller from the 17000 block of Benedict Canyon Lane reported people were shooting through the trees at Greenhorn Creek. The shooting stopped, and the person would call again if the shooting resumed.
- Robyn Moormeister