‘I can’t believe it’s gone’: Independence Trail ramp, flumes destroyed in Jones Fire (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY) | TheUnion.com
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‘I can’t believe it’s gone’: Independence Trail ramp, flumes destroyed in Jones Fire (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

Victoria Penate
Staff Writer

All Independence Trail flumes within the Jones Fire’s perimeter, including the iconic ramp up to Rush Creek and the largest Rush Creek ramp flume, have been destroyed, California State Parks confirmed Thursday.

Matt Green, acting Sierra District superintendent for California State Parks, said surveys to determine a damage percentage for the western portion of the trail were ongoing as of Thursday. The entire trail is currently under a closure order, as is the South Yuba River State Park west of Highway 49 and south of the river.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in there,” said Green, adding that Cal Fire personnel are working with State Parks to perform extensive rehabilitation to the area, including re-contouring parts of the hillside to prevent future damage.

“(Cal Fire brings) crews and works really well with our environmental scientists to try to make it so it’s going to be sustainable,” said Green. “We get heavy rains and other episodic events that have taken out portions of the Independence Trail in the past, so they’re trying to do preventative measures now.”

“It was an example that anyone could use of how to get people from different walks of life together to work on a project — that’s what the Independence Trail was.”Alden Olmsted, son of John Olmsted

Green said Cal Fire has done an amazing job this week while working to save the South Yuba River State Park and its resources, and that State Parks will also be working with the Bear Yuba Land Trust — which owns parts of the trail — to form a plan to rebuild once the damage has been assessed in more detail.

“I can’t believe it’s gone,” said Erin Tarr, co-executive director of Bear Yuba Land Trust.

Tarr said that some of the affected areas of the trail had undergone closures, an extensive funding process, and restoration since BYLT acquired the property in 2012, including the Rush Creek flume which has been destroyed.

“We want to rebuild it, certainly that’s our goal, but it was such an endeavor. And it was such a special place,” she said.

‘IT SPEAKS TO PEOPLE’S HEARTS’

The Independence Trail, the United States’ first wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail as of the 1980s, was founded by John Olmsted. Built in the 1970s, the trail represented his mission of making the outdoors accessible to all.

“It speaks to people’s hearts to have a place to feel safe in the outdoors,” said Linda Chaplin, who worked in a conservation nonprofit called Sequoya Challenge, founded by Sallie and John Olmsted, for around 25 years.

“I think kids that came out in school groups from 20 years ago still have memories of doing that, and it’s a very vivid experience that sticks with you the rest of your life,” said Chaplin.

“In Nevada County, to have a flat trail is pretty unique, because most of the country is not flat,” said Chaplin. She said John Olmsted was motivated in his work not only by a love for the outdoors but by a drive to help increase accessibility, sparked by a push in the 1960s and ’70s to help veterans of the Vietnam War who had returned home with disabilities causing mobility issues.

She said Olmsted, who died in 2011, was a “grassroots person” and one of the first in Nevada County to gather groups of volunteers geared toward natural preservation and education, something which is now a well represented cause in the area.

Alden Olmsted, the son of John Olmsted, said he had avoided the news since noticing on a map that the Jones Fire’s perimeter had reached the trail, knowing it was likely to be destroyed. “It’s incredibly sad,” he said.

He recalled his late father having gone to the site of the trail during the 49er Fire in 1988, borrowing a hard hat in order to blend in among fire personnel, and using a Rush Creek pay phone to instruct helicopters overhead.

“It’s not just my dad, hundreds or maybe thousands of other people have worked on it, picked up garbage, and rebuilt parts of it,” said Olmsted. “It was an example that anyone could use of how to get people from different walks of life together to work on a project — that’s what the Independence Trail was.”

A CONTINUED EFFORT

As of Thursday evening, the Jones Fire had burned 705 acres and was at 10% containment, Cal Fire reports, with five structures destroyed and one damaged. Lightning has officially been determined to have caused the fire.

In an afternoon update, Cal Fire battalion chief Steve Mueller said crews have made good progress in keeping the fire within containment lines. He said the objective going forward will be to keep the fire south of the Yuba River, west of Highway 49, north of Newtown Road, and east of Jones Bar Road, as well as continue ongoing mop-up efforts on the perimeter.

The Nevada County Office of Emergency Services reported Thursday 15,541 residents previously under evacuation orders or warnings have been cleared to return, leaving 700 affected by the only remaining evacuation order.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.


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