Winding through forests and river canyons of the Sierra Nevada foothills stretch miles and miles of trails suited for a diverse range of recreationists.
From mountain bicyclists, to hikers, to wheelchair users, runners and equestrian riders, local trails provide outdoor places for exercise — in solitude or with companions.
Whether taking an easy one-mile walk or a more arduous 15-mile trek, being on an earthen trail is a time to take a break from the stressful demands of today’s fast-paced world and to reconnect with nature.
“Trails bring serenity and peace of mind. They allow us to quickly find an escape from the complications of everyday life and reconnect with the beauty of natural places,” said John Gardiner, a local trails advocate, longtime hiker and mountain bicyclist.
American Trails, the world’s largest online trails resource, promotes the benefits of trails and greenways to planners, funders and the public. Trails make communities more livable, improve the economy through tourism, preserve and restore open space and provide opportunities for activities that improve physical and mental health, according to americantrails.org.
Yet this asset remains elusive to some. While well-known trails get heavy use, plenty of local trails remain quiet, uncrowded and undiscovered gems. Compare these attributes to a busy, expensive gym.
Gardiner believes local trails are an underutilized, affordable venue for keeping fit.
“In our country, obesity is all too common. People can use trails for a quick, enjoyable means of exercise, close to home… Trails are low-cost recreational amenities that allow us to experience nature in a healthful, low impact way,” Gardiner said.
Some of his favorite local trails include Hirschman, Pioneer, South Yuba, Bullards Bar and Grouse Ridge trails.
Trails portals, social trekking and a vibrant economy
Now folks looking for trails have more resources than ever before through online trails portals and social hiking clubs.
One example is the county’s effort to showcase the region’s recreational opportunities with a new online countywide map of public hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
Compiled by the Geographic Information Systems division of the Information and General Services Agency of Nevada County, users can navigate a county map of all known public trails, search for specific trails and click on a trail to view the name, location and distance.
The site links to others such as state parks, Tahoe Donner Land Trust, U.S. Forest Service and a Trails Portal by Bear Yuba Land Trust.
While locals will undoubtedly put the new resource to good use, county officials are optimistic it will also help boost recreational tourism.
“Now with this single Web map, enthusiasts can easily plan their next visit or hike in Nevada County across many different types of managed trails.
Easier use and better access to information about trails will translate to more visitors. Growing Nevada County as a destination for hikers and trail enthusiasts is good for us all and the local economy,” said Information Systems Manager Tom Naramore.
Nevada City resident Greg Archbald sees the county’s new site as a “fabulous resource.”
Archbald co-founded the Trust for Public Land and since 2008 has volunteered hundreds of hours with Bear Yuba Land Trust, mapping, writing about and photographing nearly two dozen trails for the nonprofit organization’s Trails Project.
Some of Archbald’s favorite local trails include Deer Creek Tribute Trail going west from Nevada City, Hirschman Trail, the Conlon Mine Trail on Osborne Hill in Empire Mine State Park and the Hoyt Trail.
“Local trails are a huge asset to Nevada County in many different ways. They help to create an active, healthy and engaged population. Trail activity is a financial generator that helps to increase tourism and local sales of goods and services. Trails build community, promote a conservation ethic and give a lot of folks a lot of pleasure,” Archbald said.
The Land Trust’s new 2014 series, “Treks on Tuesdays” drew 15 people during the kickoff hike on the Alan Thiesen trail in Alta Sierra earlier this week.
Designed to encourage more people to visit local trails, the series will feature a different hike each month.
The next trek will be held at 10 a.m., Feb. 18, on the Deer Creek Tribute Trail West.
To date, the Land Trust has built 14 public access trails totaling 35 miles and each year leads 60 guided treks and nature-based lectures.
The Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce recognizes local trails as a draw to visitors and actively promotes recreation at its Main Street visitor center.
CEO Keith Davies appreciates the economic boost visitors bring to town when they come to explore local trails.
“What makes our local trails so appealing to all ages is the fact that several are built upon 19th century water ditches, and the barely perceptible incline that brought water from high in the mountains to mining camps in and around Grass Valley and Nevada City, now offer the perfect, gradual topographical change for walkable trails,” Davies said.
Testament to the positive impacts local recreation trails have on a community is the explosive growth of Nevada County Walkers in just a few short years.
Started in 2010, the group has 640 members today with multiple walks on local trails scheduled six days a week designed for a broad spectrum of ages and fitness levels.
“We’ve seen the numbers of participants on each walk grow in leaps and bounds. Walkers who have joined us have been introduced to trails they never knew existed, and they now can go back with their family and friends to share their experience,” said Nevada County Walkers Organizer Mary Cahill.
Laura Brown is the outreach coordinator for Bear Yuba Land Trust. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-272-5994, ext. 211.