The Nevada County Supervisors directed staff to facilitate a compromise between two groups for establishing a trail with limited use restrictions that traverses through three South County subdivisions.
The direction to staff was provided after a three-hour meeting Tuesday, which featured lengthy public comment from both sides of a simmering debate over public access to a historic trail.
The 6-mile segment of the Overland Emigrant Trail — widely considered to be the first trail used by the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party in 1844 as they sought to settle California — has emerged as a point of vigorous debate in Nevada County.
The segment of the trail crosses through three subdivisions — Golden Oaks, Lodestar and Sunshine Valley — built in the 1970s.
Property owners in the three subdivisions recognize public easements wind through the neighborhoods, but contend the easements are disjointed with significant gaps in connectivity, making the feasibility of an actual trail questionable.
They also claim a trail would cause litter, increased fire danger and liability issues to the property owners.
On the other side of the debate, trail advocates assert a trail can be built along the public easements and the connection gaps can be improved with superior planning.
Advocates say there is a paucity of trail systems in South County and the historical significance of the trail is important.
Property owners, led by Debbie Porter, president of the Golden Oaks Homeowners Association, presented what they believed to be an effective compromise by replacing the public easement trails with a historic preservation easement that would restrict public access, but allow for private guided tours.
Jaede Miloslavich, president of the Emigrant Trail Conservancy, said that is essentially akin to making a public easement into a private one.
Supervisor Ed Scofield, who represents the district where the trail is located, clearly favored the historic preservation easement option, complimenting the homeowners on their willingness to compromise while saying he was “disappointed in the other side” for their lack of willingness to compromise.
“The constraints (of making a public trail) are there,” he said. “They are real. I support the homeowners on (the historic preservation easement).”
Scofield was in the minority.
Chairman Hank Weston said it was the intent of the previous board — which installed the public easements for the trail in the subdivisions — to have it open to the public.
“There are ways to fix (connectivity gaps),” he said.
Supervisor Terry Lamphier said he was in favor of granting public access to the easements, with some restrictions that protected property owners from unwanted incursions onto their private property.
Signs and clearly marked paths are possible solutions, Lamphier said during the meeting.
Supervisor Richard Anderson said he favored an immediate opening of the easements to the public and advocated for trails as a positive contribution to the area’s quality of life.
Trail advocates and property owners are tentatively set to meet within the next 90 days to attempt to fashion a compromise, with the caveat that if no compromise is reached, the board will make a decision.
In the meantime, the public easements will remain closed until Aug. 31.
Miloslavich and Porter both said they are willing to enter talks in good faith.
Miloslavich said if the public easements are upheld, a trail could be built in less than a year.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.