Agreement near on construction of Emigrant Trail |

Agreement near on construction of Emigrant Trail

A sign along the easement of the Overland Emigrant Trail shares some of the history of the trail.
Annita Kasparian/The Union | The Union

The Bear Yuba Land Trust and Nevada County are on the brink of cinching an agreement that would tap the land trust as the recreation provider responsible for building the controversial Overland Emigrant Trail.

The details have yet to be hammered out, but Bear Yuba Land Trust Executive Director Marty Coleman-Hunt said her board approved a memorandum of understanding that provides a general framework for establishing a partnership between the land conservation nonprofit and the county.

“My board has approved it, but it still has to be approved by the board of supervisors,” Coleman-Hunt said.

The Bear Yuba Land Trust has planned, built and continues to maintain nearly 20 hiking trails built on a mixture of private and public land, Coleman-Hunt said, and will bring its experience to bear on the current project.

The announcement was made at this week’s initial meeting of the Emigrant Trail Working Group, which aims to build consensus by bringing together stakeholders, including trail advocates, property owners, recreation providers and members of the community.

On Aug. 27, the Nevada County board of supervisors directed county staff to commence the process of opening trail easements that traverse through three South County neighborhoods — Golden Oaks, Lodestar and Sunshine Valley.

When the developments were built in the 1970s, planning officials exacted public trail easements from developers in exchange for approval. The easements lack connectivity and dead end into private roads, stream beds or terrain prone to flooding, according to property owners and officials who have toured the site.

The purpose of the working group is to solve issues relating to constructing the trail, including location, appearance, the connectivity gaps, trail rules, enforcement and liability issues.

“Ultimately, the purpose or role of the working group is to provide a recommendation back to the board of supervisors,” said Assistant Planner Larkyn Feiler, who has acted as the planner responsible for researching issues pertaining to the trail and crafting recommendations for the board.

“This group is not a decision-making body. We want to try to create consensus by talking and working together. But if the pieces just don’t come together, staff will fill in the gaps and take that back to the board.”

One participant among the approximately 30 people who attended Tuesday night’s meeting took issue with that, saying the vast majority of people do not want the trail, that there is no funding for the trail and that there are myriad projects that deserve to be prioritized. The man spoke for several minutes before Planning Director Brian Foss said the board of supervisors had already directed staff to explore how to construct a trail and that discussing the merits of that decision is outside the working group’s purview.

There were several questions surrounding trail construction funding from attendees.

Funding will be one of the major issues, Feiler said, with initial plans focusing on obtaining grants to fund the construction.

Decisions about whether to transfer the easements to the land trust and long-term maintenance plans will be addressed by the working group, which will be broken out into subcommittees to tackle individual issues with the trails. The working group will meet monthly with a report due to the board of supervisors in February 2014 and then again in August 2014.

Once the working group establishes a general consensus about planning portions of the trail, an environmental review will be necessary before a shovel can move dirt.

The easements have remained shuttered to trail users, causing restlessness among some stakeholders who want to use the trail.

A tentative timeline provided by Feiler indicated it would be unlikely for construction to commence within the next year.

Coleman-Hunt said she has received many requests from citizens to build a trail in South County, an area that suffers from a paucity of recreational trails.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call 530-477-4239.

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