Any hikers or history buffs interested in walking a re-creation of the circa-1884 Overland Emigrant Trail traveled by pioneers in south Nevada County may have to buy a long-term planning calendar.
Public access to easements along the former trail route that runs through three housing subdivisions will be blocked for two more years, following action this week by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
The issue of creating safe recreational and educational public access to the easements, versus the homeowners’ apparent disinterest in allowing any public access at all, has been festering since before the current county administration.
“We have to deal with trespassers all the time,” said Debbie Porter, president of the Golden Oaks Homeowners Association, after the board voted unanimously Tuesday to block access for two years. “I’m glad they are keeping it closed; there’s no trail in many places and there are many gaps.”
The board vote came after planning staff said it would take at least two years to complete a survey of exactly where the route and the easements fall, followed by 18 months of environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
Staff said they would also use the time to focus on securing an agreement with homeowners in the Sunshine Valley subdivision, which has the only external access to the proposed trail.
“So many goofs have been made and this has become so complex — and now we’re on legal ground,” said Supervisor Ed Scofield, referring to attorneys hired by the Sunshine Valley Homeowners Association and by a homeowner in neighboring Golden Oaks subdivision, who is in a dispute with the county over a fence on his property.
“I think staff is right to direct its energies to Sunshine Valley,” Scofield said. “If we can make an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with them, that would be a good step.”
Other board members voiced frustration at being unable to move forward.
“We don’t even know where this trail is,” Supervisor Hank Weston said. “If we opened it up (and did not block access) and something happened, we’d be deep in it.”
It was not immediately clear if any trail construction could take place while the CEQA review was under way or if that would have to happen after the two years are over. Planning staff said they would be talking with Bear Yuba Land Trust to see if that agency would be interested in taking on oversight, management and maintenance of the trail.
Some members of the public were unhappy with the lack of progress on the issue.
“I’ve spent the last three years doing historical research on this, and indeed it is recorded as the Old Emigrant Road, or Overland Emigrant Road, in south Nevada County,” said Linda Chaplin of Nevada City. “It is a historical resource.”
Chaplin said she would like to see a public workshop on trail development, rather than handing it over to an agency.
“The public deserves a right to have some say over public trails,” she added. “I don’t want the public to be excluded in this process.”
Alta Sierra resident Don Bessee said homeowners knew about the easements when they bought their properties.
“It seems like the homeowners are trying to get out of their contractual obligation,” he said. “If they want to buy us out, buy us out.”
Others wondered why the county was devoting so much staff time and money to the issue.
“Who exactly does this benefit, and how many potential users will there be?” asked county resident Eddie Garcia. “It seems like there is a lot of money, time and effort being put into something with limited use and interest.”
The county has already decided to declare the proposed trail off-limits to horseback and bicycle riders. The proposed route now is strictly a pedestrian pathway.
Nevada County Assistant Planner Larkyn Feiler said she is optimistic the county will be able to sign off soon on an MOU with the Sunshine Valley subdivision. Once that is settled, chances are good that the other two subdivisions — Golden Oaks and Lodestar Unit II — will follow suit, officials said.
“The ideal result will be that we will develop an MOU for use by pedestrians only,” said Paul Mellette of the Sunshine Valley Homeowners Association. “We need to have the gaps closed and the survey done and comply with CEQA.”
Jaede Miloslavich of the Emigrant Trail Conservancy said in a letter that she was not in favor of blocking access for two additional years. A year-long suspension of access was approved last August and will expire Aug. 31.
“The continued trail closure has emboldened those landowners who wish to block the easements,” said Miloslavich, referring to the fence built on one property.
Supervisor Terry Lamphier, who ended up voting in favor of the two-year closure, initially was skeptical.
“If there were a chance that there would be usable trail at the end of two years, I would support it,” he said early on in Tuesday’s meeting. “If it’s just more bureaucratic and legal stuff, no.
“Otherwise,” he said, “it does feel like just kicking the can down the road.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
“So many goofs have been made and this has become so complex — and now we’re on legal ground.”
Supervisor Ed Scofield