Malakoff Diggins State Park joins national movement with First Day Hikes |

Malakoff Diggins State Park joins national movement with First Day Hikes

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union
Geologist Syd Brown will lead a New Year's Day hike on the Rim Trail at Malakoff Diggins State Park as part of an international movement known as First Day Hikes.
Photo by Syd Brown |


What: First Day Hike

Where: Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Meeting location: Museum/Park Office, 23579 North Bloomfield Road, Nevada City

When: 1 p.m., Jan. 1

Difficulty: Moderate

Age: 8 and up. No dogs please

Length of hike: 3.3 miles

Cost: $5 parking fee

Things to bring: Water and snacks. Dress in layers. Rain, snow or shine.

Info: (Click on the Frist Day Hike logo)

On the first day of the New Year, retired State Park Geologist Syd Brown will lead a hike on the Rim Trail at Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, where a landscape with an “awful beauty” is restoring itself from the environmental disaster of 1800s hydraulic gold mining.

“I consider it a hidden gem,” said Syd Brown, an avid hiker, who for years has made a tradition of hiking on New Year’s Day with friends.

She jumped at the chance to lead the hike, part of an international movement called, First Day Hikes, held at state parks throughout the U.S. and now in Canada. For 37 years she was an employee of State Parks and now serves as an executive committee member of Friends of North Bloomfield and Malakoff Diggins (FNBMD).

“All the parks are my parks. I do it for the love,” said Brown, who believes strongly in the idea of protecting public land, forever.

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“It’s the idea of perpetuity, for yesterday, today and tomorrow. In the big picture, and the long stretch of time, these places will be here,” she said.

Started in 1992 in Massachusetts, America’s State Parks First Day Hikes has been held in all 50 states since 2012. The idea is to foster healthy lifestyles, get folks outdoors to honor fitness resolutions and inspire them to visit treasured state parks and protected public lands all year long. This Jan. 1, 2018, marks the first year, the event will become international, with hikes in Ontario, Canada.

The hike

Volunteers from Friends of North Bloomfield will lead the moderate 3.3 mile hike beginning at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1.

The trail runs along the upper rim of the Diggins giving visitors views of the spectacular “pit” and canyon walls excavated by hydraulic mining in the late 1800s. The landscape continues to heal, with natural re-vegetation softening the dramatic effects of the gold mining activities.

Brown will point out historic ditches that brought water from the high country to the mines, artifacts along the trail and the unique topography of the cliffs surrounding the pit.

Bring water and snacks and dress in layers, appropriate for the weather. Children age eight and older are welcome. No dogs, please. The cost is $5 and can be paid using a self-pay envelope at the museum office in the center of the old restored town site of North Bloomfield.

Geology and history

What is now known as Malakoff Diggins was shaped by an interesting characteristic known as inverted topography, where the ancient valley bottoms are now the ridge tops, according to the report “Geologic Gems,” a project that includes 55 California State Parks including Malakoff and South Yuba River.

As part of geologic time, super-heated fluids dissolved, mobilized, and concentrated gold into milky white quartz veins that eventually weathered and eroded, attracting hordes of gold-hungry miners.

Mining evolved from tunneling and hard rock to hydraulic — where water canons known as “monitors” washed away entire hillsides. Malakoff is the site of the largest hydraulic mine in the country.

Several cubic miles of sediment and debris from the mines was dumped into the Yuba and other rivers, filling up the channels and causing widespread flooding in the Sacramento Valley. The devastation from the flooding led to the creation of California’s first environmental law, the Sawyer Decision in 1884.

“From a geologic perspective, the ancient river gravels are important in that they provide insight into the timing of the geologic events that gave rise to the current Sierra Nevada. From the human perspective, the gold in the gravels was a source of vast wealth that drove the development of early California,” according to “Geologic Gems.”

Efforts Underway to Get Malakoff on the Map

Once the site of an environmental disaster, this spring Malakoff will become the first state park in California to operate solely by using solar power.

“We were the first to start the bad stuff, now we’re the first to start the good stuff,” said Friends of North Bloomfield board member Holly Mitten, an avid hiker who hikes five days a week and will act as “sweep” during the New Year hike.

First Day Hikes is part of a larger effort to get the park on the map. It is the first event in a full year’s lineup of monthly outings in the works for 2018. Last fall, the park’s pilot event French Connection engaged 300 participants including the Consulat General of France from San Francisco.

Several years ago, Malakoff Diggins was threatened by closure due to declining park visitation, vandalism and decay. A few years ago Park lovers organized the nonprofit Friends of North Bloomfield under the umbrella of South Yuba River Parks Association (SYRPA) to support educational activities and help preserve the natural and cultural resources of the park while elevating visibility.

More than 70 percent of the people who use the 3,200-acre park regularly come from the Bay Area and Sacramento and are surprisingly not local, said Mitten.

Friends of North Bloomfield has a strategic plan to attract more visitors by 2020. The preserved and almost undiscovered ghost town of North Bloomfield, 20 miles of scenic trails that tell the story of hydraulic mining, the only campground (with 60 sites) in the sector and a thriving curriculum-based environmental living and fourth grade education program rivals the offerings of Bodie State Historic Park, supporters say.

“Malakoff is really a corollary to Bodie. It’s an intact ghost town under State Park stewardship on a county road,” said Brown.

“Now we’re really in a position to take steps forward,” said Mitten.

Volunteer training will take place this spring for living history interpretive programming. The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

Learn more at

Geologic Gems of California:

Contact Outdoor writer Laura Petersen at or 530-913-3067.

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