A springtime walk: Taking the low road

You don’t need to be a horticultural wizard to know that spring has sprung here in Nevada County: flamboyant riots of wildflowers paint our hillsides and valleys, huge creamy blossoms of native dogwood are emerging alongside a sea of pink and white blooms on woodland and garden trees, while beneath our shady forest canopies, the fronds of emerald ferns begin to unfurl in the growing warmth.

Spring is the perfect season for a whole host of getting-out-of-the-house activities, including walks with your dog.

Whether your walking preference is the lowlands or mountains, Nevada County holds countless opportunities for everything from leisurely strolls to day-long hikes.

This month, we’re going to cover a few of the best lower-elevation hiking spots our region has to offer.

Independence Trail

Renowned as the nation’s first handicapped-accessible wilderness trail, this route has two discrete sections that wind over seven miles along the historic Excelsior Ditch and connect with the Jones Bar Trail. Several historic flumes cross Rush Creek along the trail, where you’ll find waterfalls, pools and spectacular views down the south Yuba River canyon.

To reach the trailhead, drive north on Highway 49 toward Downieville, and watch for the Independence Trail signs. Dogs must be leashed along these trails.

Empire Mine Trails

The trails that wind through Grass Valley’s Empire Mine State Historic Park are among the most visited in our area. On weekends. you’ll be joined by dozens of other walkers, horseback riders and mountain bikers.

If you want to avoid the bulk of the crowds, take any of the offshoot trails that spiderweb through the park.

Weekdays and early mornings you’ll also find fewer people on the trails. All dogs must be leashed in the park.

Deer Creek Tribute Trail

One of the most popular paths in Nevada City, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call this “a” trail. It’s really more like a series of interconnected trails that meander through the Deer Creek watershed, through portions of downtown Nevada City, and join up with the footpath along the Newtown Canal.

Hiking the total trail could easily consume half a day, but you can walk just portions of it depending upon how energetic you and your dog are.

Pick up the trail at the Nimrod Street trailhead across from Pioneer Park, the Stonehouse parking lot, the Miners Foundry, along the Old Downieville Highway, or off Champion Road.

The Champion Road section leads to a beautifully-maintained new plaza and the Chinese Bridge across Deer Creek, erected as a tribute to the role of Chinese immigrants in our region’s history.

For maps and more information on the Independence, Empire Mine, and Tribute trails, go to the Bear Yuba Land Trust website at www.bylt.

Spenceville Wildlife Area

If you’ve never been to Spenceville, you’re in for a real treat — especially in the spring. Sprawling over some 11,000 acres in both Nevada and Yuba counties, this wildlife refuge is located about 16 miles west of Grass Valley off Highway 20 near Beale Air Force Base. Its rolling hills are dotted with huge, spreading oaks and countless trails that crisscross meadows of native poppy, lupine, Johnny jump-up, wild iris, and dozens of other wildflowers. Spenceville’s major stream, Dry Creek, feeds the spectacular Fairy Falls, cascading some 90 feet to the deep pools below. Go to www.spenceville.org for maps and information.

Now for some general tips: Any time you’re out walking with your dog, whether for just a couple of miles or an all-day hike, keep in mind both courtesy and safety. Be sure your dog is leashed in areas where it’s required, and obviously on city sidewalks. Take along a supply of waste bags, and dispose of them in public trash bins.

Carry adequate water for both you and your dog, especially as our days get warmer and always when you’re in areas where there are no water sources. (Remember that you should never drink water from streams and lakes unless you’ve disinfected it. Your dog will probably be OK, but it’s possible for him to pick up a water-borne parasite like giardiasis or leptospirosis from contaminated water, so watch for signs of diarrhea in the days following your hike.)

Obviously, your dog needs to be vaccinated against rabies no matter what, but if you plan to hike anywhere other than in the city, he should probably also have a rattlesnake vaccination. Rattlesnake bites are about 25 times more fatal in dogs than in humans — and while the vaccine won’t prevent dogs from becoming ill, it can help them survive the snake bite, delay its effects and reduce its severity.

Next month: great dog-walking trails in the region’s higher elevations.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her golden retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.


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The Union Updated Jul 19, 2013 02:36PM Published Apr 18, 2013 10:50PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.