Empire Mine trails ranger Greg Sherr | TheUnion.com

Empire Mine trails ranger Greg Sherr

Laura Brown
Special to The Union

Chances are, visitors looking for Park Ranger Greg Sherr won't find him in the office. Since starting his new post at Empire Mine State Park in December, Sherr has made a point to be out on the trail, talking to everyone he sees.

"I've been out a couple times already. It's my job," he said, on a recent afternoon as he toured the re-routed trails of Osborne Hill.

Many park visitors recognize Sherr. For 12 years he was the park ranger at Malakoff Diggins State Park where he still lives with his wife, former park ranger Christy Sherr and their daughter, Delaney.

"He's a real nice guy. He is so focused on the visitors and the ambiance of the mine. Sometimes rangers can be a little aloof … Greg's out there, he supports us and is grateful of the volunteers. He just loves to walk and talk to people and greet them. He's such a breath of fresh air," said Dave Anderson, a docent of five years.

Anderson works in the blacksmith shop at Empire Mine and Sharon, his wife of 48 years, tends to the park's rose garden. Docents like the Andersons are considered the soul and lifeblood of the park, helping to make history come alive for visitors.

Sherr is happy doing business without digital technology. He has never sent a text and he never sends mass emails. Instead, he knows how to relate to the environment and people. He calls each and every docent, one by one.

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"That's one of my goals here is to be out so people can talk to me," he said walking the Hard Rock Trail leading to the recently rerouted network of recreation trails of Osborne Hill.

Some of the trails were temporarily closed and have changed slightly upon re-opening to protect people from heavy metals such as arsenic leftover from the mining days.

"It was part of the remediation here. We had to take steps to protect public health and we did that," Sherr said.

At first, mountain bicyclists reacted unfavorably to the plan to cap the natural dirt paths with crushed rock. Gravel is not a friend of cyclists, for the skin damage it causes upon taking a tumble. But over time, horses have left their droppings, leaves have fallen, and the trails are fun to ride again.

"It's actually really enjoyable. The trails are great," said Jon Pritchett, president of Bicyclists of Nevada County (BONC).

This quieter part of the park is popular not only among mountain bicyclists, but equestrian riders, walkers and runners looking for exercise and a retreat from the busyness and noise of town.

"The wonderful thing is you really feel like you're in the wilderness," Anderson said, who likes to walk his dog on the trails. A leash law is enforced at the park.

Empire Mine offers miles of forested trails shaded by towering pine trees and black oak within walking distance of downtown Grass Valley.

Crossing over Little Wolf Creek, a Mourning Cloak, one of the first butterflies of spring, flitted by. California Newts can be spotted in the creek.

This 856-acre public park is an important wildlife corridor linking private properties and shelters many kinds of birds, fox, raccoon, deer and even bear and mountain lion. At least one mountain lion is sighted each year.

In the Osborne Hill area, a network of multi-use trails pass by century old abandoned mine sites: the Prescott Hill Mine, the Betsy Mine, the Conlon Mine that closed in 1908 and the small Daisy Hill Mine marked by two piles of waste rock. The mines were absorbed by Empire Mine, considered one of California's richest for producing more than six million ounces of gold during 100 years of operation.

While evidence of mining is everywhere, the forest is reclaiming the land. A Brown Creeper called out its delicate song. On a recent outing, Sherr saw a partially albino Robin and a Pileated Woodpecker – a sign that big trees are near by.

"You can see birds on the trail that are quite wonderful," Sherr said.

Throughout remote sections of the park, access points are available for those looking to get out from a neighborhood or crowded housing cluster.

"It's so peaceful. It's very well populated yet you can still be alone, but not totally alone," said Donna Finch of Forest Springs who moved to the foothills from Detroit. She enjoys the botanical diversity of the park.

"It's wonderful," she said.

In the year ahead, Sherr's goal is to install new signs in the Osborne Hill area. The wooden posts are in and waiting. He would also like to conduct a survey to find out who uses the park, who doesn't and why.

Depending on the time of day and season, the trails can take on a different feel. A few weeks ago, the sand hill cranes flew overhead, with their deep trumpeting and rattling call, headed north.

"The best way to get to know the trails is to get out and explore," Sherr said.

Trail maps are available for free in the visitor center. Trail users are not required to pay a day use fee. Access the trails parking in the main visitor center parking lot or the Penn Gate parking lot, both located on Empire Street in Grass Valley.

For more information visit: http://www.empiremine.org/ or http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=499.

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at laurabrown323@gmail.com or 530-401-4877.

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