Humbug Creek Trail re-opened despite COVID challenges
Special to The Union
In mid-March 2020, just after the state’s general shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nevada County experienced a significant winter storm event. Heavy snow and intense precipitation were welcomed, but the combination broke innumerable branches and whole trees, caused power outages, closed roads, and created landslides large and small along roads and trails throughout the county.
The Humbug Creek trail, which leads three miles down to the South Yuba River from Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, was particularly impacted. Whole trees were jack-strawed across the trail, footbridges and walkways were undermined, and the trail bed was buried with soil and rock debris.
Faced with almost overwhelming challenges related to staffing shortages, COVID restrictions and protocols, and the extreme remoteness and rugged terrain of the Humbug Creek canyon, the State Park trail crew nevertheless mobilized to clear the downed trees, uncover the trail bed, secure the wooden structures and re-open the trail.
According to Julie Clark, the park’s maintenance supervisor, “This is by far the hardest trail in the Sierra Gold sector to work on, because it’s so long, so steep and so inaccessible.”
All materials had to be carried miles by hand, with the stalwart crew “acting as pack mules for weeks on end,” transporting almost two tons of redi-mix concrete in 90-pound sacks. The natural resource and forestry crew headquartered at the Tahoe District office spent two weeks just clearing the downed trees and re-routing sections of trail where the trail was undermined, or buried.
The sector maintenance crew performed yeoman’s work, hauling construction material, timber, tools, and equipment to perform the necessary work. All told, it took two full months of construction time, once the resource crew cleared the trail of the fallen trees.
Once the trail was assessed for damage, it was clear that some major effort would be needed to secure a trail bridge near the Humbug Creek waterfall. The up-canyon abutment was gone, and so the crew trudged up and down the trail, hauling the redi-mix on their backs, and hand mixing and excavating the footing to create a more secure support for the structure.
In a year when budgets have been stretched thin, staff re-assigned for contact tracing, and emergency and maintenance personnel challenged with record numbers of visitation and intense use, the Sierra Gold sector was able to accomplish an extremely difficult project with in-house expertise and dedicated crew members.
Chief Ranger Matt Green notes, “The project was completed in a time of COVID requiring extra time and expenses, which made it far more challenging. This is really symbolic of the extraordinary efforts by staff to keep public lands accessible during the most challenging times we’ve ever experienced. We were dealing with constant changes in state COVID protocols, parking lot closures, closing and then opening facilities, COVID physical impacts on staff and an ever-changing operational environment that increased stress and anxiety for us all.”
Humbug Creek Trail is just one of many trails that provides beauty and respite for people hungering for safe and healthy outlets during the pandemic. As more people find comfort in nature, the cumulative impacts of visitation and use could harm the resources, contributing to erosion, litter, and crowding.
Sierra Gold Parks Foundation encourages park users to take pride in their parks and the natural and cultural resources protected there. We encourage responsible use, and challenge our neighbors and friends to discover the calm and wonder that can result from a visit to one of our three local state parks – Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, South Yuba River State Park, or Empire Mine State Historic Park.
These parks are open all year round, and offer a real treat any time of the year. For more information go to http://www.sierragoldparksfoundation.org
Syd Brown is with the Sierra Gold Parks Foundation. More info at http://www.sierragoldparksfoundation.org.
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