Malakoff Diggins opens for limited summer season |

Malakoff Diggins opens for limited summer season

Submitted photos

This spring, hundreds of students from local schools and as a far away as the Bay Area visited Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park to learn about California’s Gold Rush history.

It’s the only California State Park commemorating hydraulic mining, and it’s still open for the public this summer despite numerous closure scares and service cutbacks.

“The park is open. It hasn’t gone anywhere. We are there,” said Seasonal Ranger Jon Burgasser.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8, Malakoff Diggins Park Association will host the annual Humbug Day Celebration.

“It’s the park’s big annual special event,” said Burgasser.

As always, the park’s restored Gold Rush town, North Columbia, will come alive with blacksmithing, candle dipping, children’s games, gold panning demonstrations, ice cream making, quilting, rag doll making, spinning, weaving and tin punching.

The town’s buildings will open up. There will be live music, dancing and food, the “world’s smallest parade” and the annual shooting of the monitor (water canon).

“It is a day for the community to come out and show support for the park and enjoy themselves,” Burgasser said.

Malakoff Diggins Park Association made 2012-2013 direct operations of the park possible with a donation of $25,000 matched by the state.

The money pays for the park’s on-the-ground maintenance and seasonal staffing. Starting in July, a similar contribution from South Yuba River Citizens League and another match from the state will keep the park open until June 30, 2014. It remains to be seen what happens after that.

Signs of the park’s narrow escape from closure are still evident.

The park’s campground is closed for a second season this summer as part of a State Park service reduction.

With 30-forested sites, the popular camping area fills up five to six times a year during special events like Humbug Day, holiday weekends and the annual storytelling festival held at the nearby cultural center, the North Columbia Schoolhouse. The rest of the time, the campground runs at 50 percent capacity.

Camping fees were not enough to cover the maintenance and personnel costs associated with the campground.

“In some years, we’ve lost money. Some years it’s been a wash. It is not a huge source of revenue, and it has to be weighed with the other costs of running the park, such as replacing the museum roof or running the generators for electricity, said Supervising Ranger Don Schmidt.

Staff are paid to keep the restrooms clean, fix broken tables, bear lockers, water and sewer lines.

“We can’t get visitation out there to make it revenue neutral,” said Schmidt.

Cutting back services is a “frustrating cycle” that impacts visitation, and in turn, future funding for the park, said Schmidt.

Three miners’ cabins are available for $40 a night in the park’s historic town. The rustic cabins include a woodstove, sinks with running water, four bunks and a fire ring. They can be reserved through Reserve America,

“It’s camping in a cabin,” said Burgasser.

The park’s visitor center and museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., three days a week this summer — Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tours of the historic buildings of North Bloomfield are offered at 1:30 p.m. all three days. A film on hydraulic mining is available for view at the Visitor Center. That, too, is a service reduction. In the past, the visitor center was open daily during the summer.

For those who want to try their hand at gold panning in Humbug Creek, gold pans will be available on loan from the museum. At 3 p.m., Saturdays, gold panning demonstrations will be set up at gold panning troughs across from the museum.

“Then we send them down to the creek to earn their fortune,” Burgasser said.

For now, the 3,500-acre park is open on a self-guided basis from sunrise to sunset daily year round. Day use fees are $8 and can be paid at the museum or by self-registration when the museum is closed.

Two of the park’s trails are closed because of structural damage to bridges. The popular Humbug Trail and the Blair Trail are expected to re-open this summer when repairs are made.

“We’re going to try to get them up and running within the next month. The Humbug Creek Trail bridge will be a big challenge because of the distance we have to haul lumber, but we’ll get it done,” said Schmidt.

As an alternative to the Humbug Trail, Burgasser suggests accessing the U.S. Forest Service trail known as Missouri Bar that leaves a corner of the park and joins the National South Yuba Trail, a river route extending from the town of Washington to Purdon Crossing.

For outdoor recreation, a number of other hiking trails within the park remain open and in early May, the Blair Fishing Pond was stocked with trout.

“They put some trophy trout out there and they haven’t all been caught yet,” Burgasser said.

For more information contact the park’s visitor center at 530-265-2740.

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at or 530-401-4877.

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