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Hirschman Trail adds another dimension to nature walks within Nevada City limits

A chorus of frogs sang out from rain swollen ponds on an overcast day as Bill Haire of the Bear Yuba Land Trust walked Nevada City’s Hirschman Trail to see how it held up after heavy storms.

With the last of the interpretive signs in place and the final inspections complete, Nevada City’s network of trails has grown by 2.6 miles to the joy of town residents who can now easily venture into the woods without starting up a car.

“I think it’s going to be hard to keep it a secret,” said Dawn Zydonis, Nevada City Parks and Recreation supervisor, about the trail that was originally designed for locals but probably won’t stay that way.



With the completion of the Hirschman Trail, Nevada City is quickly becoming a town surrounded by green space.

Besides the Hirschman Trail and the 83-acre property it sits on, the city recently purchased 30 acres of undeveloped land on Sugarloaf Mountain and teamed up with a number of agencies to create the popular Tribute Trail on Deer Creek.




A rescheduled official opening of the Hirschman Trail will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 21 with a ceremony, bike trail ride led by Bicyclists Of Nevada County (BONC) and three guided walks with various lengths.

Nearly a decade in the works, the idea of the trail began as far back as 2003, when an ad hoc trails group eyed some property owned by Nevada City as ideal for a community trail.

In the years following, the city acquired a total of 83 acres including Hirschman Pond and open space parcels deeded by the developer of the Indian Trails subdivision.

“The trail was always part of the conversation,” Zydonis said.

The land trust worked with the city to help secure trail easements and a federal grant in the amount of $195,360, part of the Federal Highways Program.

When all the pieces were in a place, along with an additional $26,640 in local contributions, trail work began in May of 2010 drawing recreationists soon after.

“People got out and used it right from the start,” Haire said.

Landscape carved by water canons

In tune with a Nevada County legacy, the trail weaves through a landscape shaped by hydraulic mining more than a century ago.

The trail and pond of the same name come from the old Hirschman Diggins, a hydraulic gold mining operation started by brothers Henry and Moses Hirschman that “paid $26,000 in the first year of operation” according to a September 1874 entry in Lives of Nevada County Pioneers.

“There’s not a whole lot written about it which is strange because it was right on the edge of town,” Haire said.

Prior to the diggins, the brothers owned several tobacco and cigar stores on Main Street in Nevada City.

Powerful water canons carved out canyons, gullies, steep slopes and irregular terrain, still prominent yet overgrown with vegetation along the trail. A number of ponds also remain from that distant mining era serving as recreation sites for generations.

“Everything here we’ve been walking through has been disturbed by hydraulic mining,” said Haire as he pointed out cliffs where trees and brush clung above the trail.

“We don’t know what it really looked like here we just know it was a lot higher,” he said.

When the Gold Rush came in 1848 to what is now Nevada City, many of the native Nisenan people who lived in a village at the town site were displaced to “Indian Flat” the area where the Hirschman Trail now winds through. According to an 1852 census, an estimated 115 Native Americans lived in the area.

Nature is reclaiming the mine site. Profuse with willow and cattail, the pond has a settled, mature look attracting waterfowl in the winter.

“It looks like there’s two pair of Canada geese going to stay here,” Haire said.

Trail for diverse cross section of users

With more than 20 years of building trails under his belt for the Forest Service and nearly a decade more with the land trust, Haire is pleased with the Hirschman project.

For the most part, the community supported the effort. While most of the actual trail construction went out to bid, upwards of 18 volunteers donated more than 200 hours of labor. Volunteers cleared brush, assisted in route surveying, constructed a 40-foot wooden flume-like trestle, installed interpretive signs, placed rock and wood chips on trail surfaces and continue to provided general maintenance.

It’s a trail that boasts many features in a short span. It’s close to town and accommodating to all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. Folks using wheelchairs can easily reach the water’s edge of the largest and prettiest pond thanks to a section built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The pond is so great you want as many people as possible to get in there,” Zydonis said.

County employees who work in the nearby government offices are known to stroll down to the pond on their lunch break to “get some real light and fresh air.”

Beyond the pond, the trail takes on a different character becoming narrower with steeper grades and a woodsier experience.

“It has about three or four personalities,” Haire said of the trail that travels through open grassland, marshy wetland and dense forests of oak, cedar, madrone and pine.

Look for mine relics such as rusty pipe and an old rock-lined water ditch. Along the trail, visitors will pass over three wooden trestles and a boardwalk called a puncheon floating over the muck.

Mountain bicyclists who want to extend their workout on Champion Road and Old Downieville Highway can now cross Highway 49 and enter the more primitive, lesser-used section of trail accessed by Indian Flat Road near the Willo and the intersection of Newtown Road.

“This is really my first time on the trail. So far, so good,” said Connie Anderson who was hiking with her friend, the local botanist Julie Carville.

“It’s wonderful it’s been protected for our community,” Carville said, adding she is eager to return for the wildflowers.

Covered in mud, bicyclist and life-long Nevada City resident, John McGee took a break from his ride along the Woods Ravine loop.

“This has been a real welcome addition. I don’t really like to drive anywhere. I just like to go out of my garage and go,” he said.

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at laurabrown323@gmail.com or 401-4877.


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