Open to all: Deer Creek trail opens public lands |

Open to all: Deer Creek trail opens public lands

Kyle Magin
Staff Writer

Jogging west from downtown Nevada City, the newly built, 2.2 mile Deer Creek Tribute trail takes hiker to progressively more serene, classic Nevada County landscape.

Rolling hills fall away to Deer Creek at the trail’s landmark feature – a steel foot bridge spanning the creek and a pleasant-looking swimming hole.

On Friday, California State Resources Secretary John Laird is expected to be on hand to dedicate the trail, a nearly $950,000 construction effort that has been planned since 2007 and was built over the last year and two months, largely under the direction of the Sierra Fund, a Nevada City foundation.

“The idea behind the trail was that there is all this public land that people want to get to, and there wasn’t a good way for them to get to it,” said Sierra Fund CEO Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin. “It was there if you could helicopter in.”

The trail crisscrosses land belonging to Nevada City, Bureau of Land Management, Nevada County and Nevada Irrigation District, as well as a number of private properties along Newtown and Champion Mine Roads.

For years, people have used the trails and ditches along the Tribute Trail for hiking and dog walking, often trespassing on private property.

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Building the trail made that crossing legal, thanks in large part to private property owners like Gary Gallelli who offered use of their properties to build the trail.

“I like the idea, and I love what it will do for the community,” Gallelli said. “My biggest concern was just making sure it doesn’t get abused.”

The trail serves a few purposes, Martin said.

“One of the goals of the project was to build a trail on land that was previously closed to public access,” Martin said. Another was to restore the forest around the trail to its appearance before invasive species moved in. That meant pulling up plants like ivy, blackberries and the ivy-like vinca and replace it with native perennials and a much cleaner looking forest floor.

Martin motions to land adjacent from the trail, which is thick and clogged with underbrush.

“The vegetation removal also helps with fire danger” as the canyon Deer Creek runs through leads right up to the backside of Nevada City, Martin said. Trail builders are working to eradicate the wick-like Scotch broom, which catches fire easily and has been the target of a number of fire-safety initiatives in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

Non-native vegetation has also been removed in historic floodplains and wetlands, where blackberries soaked up available moisture, robbing it from native species, Martin added.

The trail leads west from Nevada City following the Little Deer Creek Trail out of Pioneer Park. It was financed mainly by a $917,000 grant to The Friends of Deer Creek in 2007 from the State of California’s Proposition 50 fund. Running into cash flow problems in 2010, the Friends handed the project off to the Sierra Fund, which took the project from the planning phases to completion in a year and two months, Martin said.

Local investors provided about $190,000 in loans to the Sierra Fund to get the project completed, she added.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing they did for this community. They donated their money to provide cash flow for this thing, and get it all back with a little bit of interest, plus a new trail,” Martin said.

Martin lingers at the new bridge when showing it off to visitors. Built in collaboration with the Chinese Quarter Society, the bridge is a simple metal design, installed earlier this spring. It connects Gallelli’s property and the trail to BLM land on the other side of Deer Creek.

A simple wooden gateway, adorned with Chinese calligraphy, stands at a 180 degree angle with the entrance to the bridge. The design was based on a Chinese principal pointed out by members of the Quarter Society, which held that it is bad luck to cross a bridge head-on. One must zig-zag to the entrance in order to shake off bad spirits.

“It took the whole village to get this done,” Martin said.

To view a video on the design of the bridge and the gateway, visit and click on this story.

To view a map of the trail, click here:

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail or call (530) 477-4239.

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