Bridge to the future |

Bridge to the future

It’s a sweltering summer afternoon, the air is stagnant, and the kids are antsy. What to do?

One option in western Nevada County is to pack up the kids and the cooler, don the swimsuit, and drive down the twisty Pleasant Valley Road to the Bridgeport crossing on the South Yuba River.

Bridgeport has been a popular place to swim and picnic since at least the mid-1920s, when residents drove down to the river for some of the Kneebone family’s renowned ice cream.

Eighty years later, more than 73,300 people are visiting the Bridgeport beaches each year and more are coming every year, according to South Yuba River State Park attendance estimates. About 700 people visit the downstream Family Beach or the upstream Kneebone Beach on an average Saturday.

“Your elbows are touching other people – it’s packed in. I would never go there on a Saturday afternoon,” Park Ranger Robert Coyon said.

The crowding and other problems – including rampant yellow star thistle growth and scattered poop piles – leave community planners and river lovers with several dilemmas. Should they add more parking spaces? Charge fees? Add restrooms?

About 25 volunteers are working with state park, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management officials to plan for the future of the Bridgeport crossing as part of the massive South Yuba River Comprehensive Management Plan project.

The plan is intended to be a community effort to cooperatively manage the 39-mile river corridor, which is between the Spaulding and the Englebright reservoirs.

Installing additional toilets seems to be the group’s top priority for Bridgeport, said state park ecologist Lorna Dobrovolny, project manager for the river plan.

Ranger Coyon agrees.

“We still catch people going to the bathroom in the river – they just don’t want to walk the 50 yards (from the beach),” Coyon said.

In addition to more portable toilets, Dobrovolny said, future visitors to Bridgeport likely will see an equestrian trail, signs highlighting the region’s geological past and fewer non-native plants.

But the critical issue, which the planners haven’t addressed yet, is the site’s carrying capacity. Restricting the amount of parking would naturally limit visitation, Dobrovolny said.

The site’s two small parking lots usually fill by 1 p.m., Coyon said. Latecomers searching for a shoulder spot along Pleasant Valley Road often brake suddenly, surprising drivers behind them, he said.

By 2 p.m. or earlier, cars line both sides of the road. Coyon said the site can accommodate about 150 vehicles.

Although adding a parking lot or widening the shoulders would reduce roadway dangers and visitor irritations, such approaches haven’t proven too popular.

“Parking is a difficult issue,” said Janet Cohen, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizen’s League. “The river has to be able to sustain the number of visitors, and sometimes parking limits the number of visitors in a beneficial way.”

Planners have also considered charging admission to the crossing. Increased revenue would pay for additional rangers and facilities while contributing to the $18 million needed to make up for a statewide budget cut on state parks.

Charging for Bridgeport isn’t a new idea, either. The Kneebone family charged 50 cents for admission to their riverside resort in the late 1920s.

The current fee proposal was originally met with near-unanimous community opposition, Dobrovolny said. But views are starting to change.

“We’re kind of in a tough position because we don’t have enough money for what (the planning group) is asking us to produce,” Dobrovolny said.

She and Coyon don’t think collecting fees would be feasible – Coyon and other rangers would have less time to patrol the 20-mile-long park, and attendants would have to be stationed at many park entrances.

“At this point in time it’s not a doable thing,” Dobrovolny said. If fees are charged, she said, they will most likely be for camping and special events, not swimming or hiking.

The planning group, which meets every other Tuesday in Condon Park, will be discussing the Bridgeport crossing for another two months, Dobrovolny said. Anyone can attend the next meeting Tuesday, July 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. in the LOVE building at 660 Minnie St., Grass Valley.

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