A six-mile section of the Overland Emigrant Trail is one step closer to being opened to the public.
After several years of hand-wringing, aborted attempts at compromise and delays in decision making, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors affirmed the public’s right to access trail easements through three South County neighborhoods.
The Overland Emigrant Trail, which is widely considered to be the first path forged by pioneers over the Sierra Nevada spine and through the foothills, traverses through the Golden Oaks, Sunshine Valley and Lodestar neighborhoods nestled between Dog Bar Road and Highway 49.
The section of trail has been closed for the past three years while county officials have attempted to mediate a fierce debate. While the board paved the way for trail construction Tuesday, officials still need to sort out the details involved in building a properly connected trail.
When the three neighborhood subdivisions were built in the 1970s, the developers granted public easements that roughly conformed to the historic wagon trail.
The easements were never developed, leaving a disjointed series of loosely connected pathways, some of which end in creeks or privately owned roads.
The lack of a fully developed pathway prompted an ongoing and increasingly strident dispute between property owners concerned about the impacts of trespassing, and trail advocates who believe in the public’s right to recreate in the historically significant area.
Tuesday was witness to a first step in resolution as the board agreed 4 to 1 (with Supervisor Ed Scofield dissenting) that the public should have the right to access the easements and directed county planners to initiate a trail construction process.
“I hope that in all the details and issues raised, it is recognized by the community that after 30 or 40 years of contentiousness and lack of a sensible plan, the board of supervisors has taken the first step on the path toward creating a true publicly accessible trail,” said Terry Lamphier in a statement after the meeting. “I believe (that in) the not-too-distant future, all the issues will be resolved to create a legacy for all generations to come.”
About 50 people attended the meeting; approximately 30 attendees gave public comment with a slender majority of trail advocates participating.
“This trail has regional, state and national significance,” said Supervisor Richard Anderson. “It’s a recreational and historical resource and could even bring in people and revenue from outside of the county. It is worth considering.”
Scofield, who has repeatedly said the issue is one of the most contentious he has come across during his time on the board, said that property owners in the neighborhoods showed a willingness to compromise and that trail advocates did not.
A major point of debate Tuesday was whether the trails would be restricted to pedestrian use, thereby prohibiting equestrian access.
The already-convoluted issue is complicated by the fact that each of the three subdivisions has different recreation uses associated with the public easements secured in the 1970s.
Sunshine Valley’s easement allows pedestrian use only, while Lodestar’s has a broader recreational use and Golden Oaks’ allows for horseback riding.
The only access point is off Dog Bar Road, which abuts Sunshine Valley, meaning equestrians would theoretically have to walk their horses through the first segment of trail, while being able to ride on the other segments.
Other concerns include a proper trailhead with adequate parking, trail connectivity and how to handle structures that have been illegally built by property owners in vicinity to the trail.
Larkyn Feiler, a Nevada County planner who manages recreation planning, said those issues and more will be addressed over the next year.
Nevada County, unlike most of the 58 counties in California, does not maintain a parks and recreation department, meaning a third party — such as the Bear Yuba Land Trust — would have to step in and fund the studies, design and construction of the trail along with crafting an agreement for its maintenance.
Trail advocates have long asserted that if given the green light by the county, they could have the trail built and ready for public use within a year.
The green light was provided Tuesday.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or 530-477-4239.