No easy fixes
(This is the second of two articles exploring conflicts between private property owners living adjacent to, and people who use, public recreation lands in Nevada County. Today, public officials discuss possible solutions.)
Nevada County officials say there are no easy answers or quick fixes for the tangle of issues and land-use conflicts at Greenhorn Creek east of Grass Valley.
Property owners who moved there to escape the noise of city life say they are being squeezed by growing crowds seeking recreation in the county’s backwoods.
In addition to an increase in off-road vehicle use and trespassing in the area, property owner Lloyd Mitchell and others say Greenhorn Creek has become a lawless place where people go to start fires, dump trash, shoot guns, and conduct rowdy parties.
“This is the place where people go to have fun breaking the law and trashing the landscape,” said Mitchell, who moved to Greenhorn Creek 25 years ago to get away from the rigors of the Bay Area.
The creek bed is surrounded by a checkerboard of Bureau of Land Management property, Tahoe National Forest land and private parcels.
Though the area is within the county’s unincorporated jurisdiction, the county doesn’t actually own land along the creek, except for the Red Dog Road right-of-way, which passes through Mitchell’s 120-acre parcel.
Hansen Bros. Enterprises, which extracts gravel from Greenhorn Creek, owns property up and down the watershed.
The conditional-use permit issued by the county requires Hansen to allow any lawful recreational use of Greenhorn Creek, but the county won’t deal with the illicit activity that comes with it, Mitchell said.
The county saddles Hansen with the responsibility of public access, “but they don’t regulate or control it,” Mitchell claimed.
Nevada County Supervisors Chairwoman Barbara Green and former planning commissioner and county supervisor G.B. Tucker visited the area last month to get a firsthand look at the property owners’ concerns.
The challenge to settling rural land-use disputes is to come up with a plan that pleases everyone who has an interest in a particular area, said John Scull, Bureau of Land Management outdoor recreation planner.
“When there’s conflicts on BLM land, we try to come up with a solution that everyone thinks they can live with,” Scull said. “That’s not an optimum solution, but a compromise we hope people can learn to live with.”
Tucker – who owns 33 acres in the Greenhorn Creek area – agreed that a compromise should be worked out between all interested parties.
“We need to look into designating some off-road recreation areas,” he said. “People with four-wheelers and motorcycles need places to recreate.”
Tucker suggested a coalition involving Hansen Bros., BLM, Tahoe National Forest and the county aimed at creating a “bona fide controlled recreation area” at Greenhorn with controlled entry points, user fees and sanitation facilities.
“If it’s going to be a rec area with great numbers, we need to provide sanitation facilities,” he said.
Tucker said the county should step forward and consider regulating the area before things get totally out of control.
“The attitude is if there’s no regulation, people are going to continue to come anyway,” he said.
Homeowners are concerned about their security, off-road vehicle noise and trespassing on private property, and would like more police patrol in the area, said Green after attending a Red Dog/You-Bet Homeowners Association meeting last month.
Green, who likened the creek bed’s barren and defoliated appearance to the face of the moon, questioned whether the area is an appropriate place for an off-road vehicle recreation site, considering the environmental and social impacts.
“Trucks in the creek I can’t condone,” said Green, who cringed at the sight of vehicles crossing the water. “We need to see if there’s a location that would be more appropriate and less conflicting.”
The county needs to look at the big picture and coordinate with all the parties in dealing with myriad issues at Greenhorn Creek, said county Planning Director Mark Tomich.
“It’s a multi-agency and multi-issue problem,” he said.
But first, the county should define what authority it has in the area and the role it should play in addressing the environmental and social impacts, Tomich said.
Green and Tucker agreed that growth and increased recreation in remote areas of the county are driving factors behind the private versus public conflicts at Greenhorn Creek.
More growth means more people and more conflicts, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Lt. Tom Carrington.
Carrington said 30 years ago the county didn’t have these problems.
“But now there’s more growth and more people living further out in the woods, and that’s a big part of the problem,” he said.
Carrington said the Sheriff’s Office is doing the best it can to respond to calls in remote areas.
But outlying growth is stretching the county’s infrastructure, and the further out the development, the longer it takes for emergency services to respond, he said.
“It’s manpower, always manpower,” Carrington said. “We do the best we can with the resources we have.”
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