Call of the wild – Study to determine what can be done to restore Wolf Creek
Restoring Wolf Creek through Grass Valley as an economic and aesthetic asset will be no small task.
Projects in other communities like Napa and Truckee show it can be done, depending on what a town wants and what it can afford.
In Grass Valley, just squeezing $40,000 out of the city in June to study the entire creek concept during a tight budget year was an early struggle.
But Wolf Creek Community Alliance spokesman Michael McDonald thinks the study will quickly tell the community a lot about what is feasible and what is not.
“The real corridor that will have the biggest impact is from the (new Holiday Inn Express) hotel through Safeway, and that’s no small challenge,” McDonald said. “The study will hopefully tell us how much it can open to make it bike and pedestrian friendly.”
Grass Valley Community Development Director Joe Heckel said it is not finalized, but language in the hotel’s building permit gives the city an easement for the long concrete culvert that now houses the creek underground. It runs along the Golden State Freeway frontage road (recently renamed Tinloy Street) from Bank Street, through the Colfax Avenue/Auburn Street intersection and comes out behind Safeway.
That easement would allow the city to open the culvert and restore the creek with greenery and other amenities the alliance envisions. However, the city would have to come up with new parking spaces to replace those displaced by opening the creek, Heckel said.
A more daunting problem will be dealing with Caltrans and what the city would do to replace the culvert, which is now a strong physical support for Tinloy Street, Heckel said. “The state would have to work with us” to open the creek.
Holiday Inn project owner Nick Hayhurst of Roseville is not opposed to opening the stream.
“It would be a huge amenity for all of us,” Hayhurst said last week. “But the culvert would be very, very expensive. It’s an abutment for the bridge” that takes the Golden Center Freeway over the Auburn Street/Colfax Avenue intersection.
Beyond the Holiday Inn issue, the entire project “is tricky and complicated, but I don’t think unachievable,” McDonald said. “Overall, people think it is a good idea.”
The alliance started last November after a city treatment plant spill into Wolf Creek raised concerns. Now the alliance has raised other concerns, McDonald said.
Private owners of residential and commercial property will have to be dealt with, McDonald said. The state and county will undoubtedly come into play and the Emgold Mining Corp., which hopes to open the Idaho-Maryland Mine along the upper reaches of the creek, will also need to wade in. However, the firm has already donated money to the alliance to help it gain nonprofit status.
“The challenge is to make the vision a reality and be sensitive to all interests,” McDonald said.
The one thing that made stream renovation a reality in Napa County was money, and lots of it. The Napa River Flood Protection Project – for seven miles of the stream through the town – is a $225 million endeavor. Stopping the almost annual floods caused by years of channeling and harnessing the river and not allowing it to naturally spread made downtown Napa almost lifeless 10 years ago.
In the last few years, the town has watched as lands were reopened for flood channels and terraced so that almost annual floods did not occur.
With the way the river was left after years of industrialization and neglect, “Napa could flood in eight hours” or just about any time there was a hard rain, said Robin Klingbeil of the city’s redevelopment and economic department.
Klingbeil said Napa neglected its downtown for years and like many places, watched its stores relocate to outlying shopping centers.
Klingbeil said earlier attempts to revive the downtown had failed. In 1998, “the flood project initiated investment and development” to the point where downtown Napa is regaining its legs. Klingbeil’s office has tracked $197 million in new, private investment into downtown Napa and another $99 million in real estate transactions.
Combined with the $225 million flood project funds – half of which come from a 1/2 cent local sales tax over 20 years – the revenues and subsequent Napa Urban Waterfront Restoration Plan represent a half-billion dollar swing to the area in six years.
The city, county and flood protection district have to go to Washington, D.C., every year for appropriations, but area U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson is pretty good at it, Klingbeil said.
Napa has dealt with floods and watched the rest of the famous valley north of it explode in value and wine business revenues in the past 40 years.
“Napa was the last part of the valley that gentrified,” said Downtown Association president and restaurateur Joe Salerno. “It was kind of a lonely place eight years ago,” Salerno said. “Not a lot of locals were coming into downtown.”
Thanks to the river project, “the money came in and really kicked it into high gear,” Salerno said. “It’s made downtown Napa a serious place to invest in.”
Those investments include a renovated opera house, commercial buildings and homes close to downtown and plans for two new hotels.
The major investment in the Our Truckee River Legacy Foundation has been time and sweat, according to Andy Otto of the foundation.
Later this month Truckee will open the second section of its river trail plan that town members hope will go through downtown next. Most of it has been done with volunteer time and effort, Otto said.
“Our group was started in 1977 by the Rotary Club,” Otto said. “It’s a long-term project to clean and fix up a river, that’s why we call it a legacy….The river was the junkyard for the town for 100 years.”
Otto said there were no big grants to build the trail along the river downstream from downtown Truckee. The city got some state grant funds, but not enough to do more than cut trail, put in benches and some restrooms.
Otto and Lisa Wallace of the Truckee River Watershed Council said there are hopes the trail can help downtown economics when it comes. At this point, “it’s very popular but it’s too far from historic downtown to have an impact,” Wallace said.
But hopes remain because the trail is just part of a larger trail and bike path plan that would encircle and cut through the Truckee area and possibly bring more money flow through downtown from tourists and locals.
Although they are at polar opposites in funding and scope, both the Truckee and Napa projects have taken a step-by-step approach that could well be how the Wolf Creek project progresses.
“It will add tourist and economic development,” McDonald said. “There are solutions around parking and solutions around traffic flow and the city is starting to look at those things.”
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