Malakoff Diggin’s: The making of a State Park
Second of two parts
LAST TIME we listed the events leading to establishment of the Malakoff Diggin’s State Historic Park up to fall 1961. Here we pick up the story with a trip to the Diggin’s by state and local officials, including a state senator and an assemblyman. All of that group were members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, the red shirted Clampers.
IN THE FALL of 1961, a few months after the initial inspection trip, a larger safari was scheduled. Present that day were Charles DeTurk, director of the California Division of Beaches and Parks; Nevada County’s State Sen. Ronald Cameron and Assemblyman Paul J. Lunardi, state parks personnel Clyde Newlin and Mel Whittaker; the three Nugget staffers who made the initial trip and a host of local government and elected officials, all of whom had been active in promoting the project.
The state officials had great praise for the area and the idea of an interpretive park. Back in Sacramento, DeTurk presented the idea to the State Parks Commission, which ordered a feasibility study. A favorable report led to the Malakoff’s inclusion in the state’s five year plan predicated on passing (it did) of a $1 million bond issue by the voters for park land acquisition and improvement.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was touting physical fitness and his 50 mile walks were becoming “the thing to do.” With this in mind and to call attention to the Malakoff project, the Nevada County Nugget challenged The Union to an abbreviated “endurance” walk from Nevada City to the Malakoff Diggin’s/North Bloomfield, a distance of 13 miles via Edward’s Crossing. The “race” would take place rain or shine on Feb. 22, one of George Washington’s birthdays (see page A3, The Union, Feb. 21).
Each newspaper fielded a team. The Union’s team, the Lizzie Glotzmier AC, was captained by City Editor Peter Ingram and the Nugget’s bunch, the Humbug Hornets, was headed by Advertising Director Stu Flansburg. They were joined by some 25 local walkers in front of The National Hotel at 6 a.m. Here the trekkers were piped up Broad Street and out of town by Nevada City Councilman Arch McPherson to the haunting notes of Scotland the Brave.
Almost four hours later the first 10 participants arrived in North Bloomfield. Some 30 of the 36 walkers finished the trek, footsore but happy. The last to finish did so in five hours.
In January 1964, 80 years to the month after the infamous Sawyer Decision that effectively shut down hydraulic gold mining, land acquisition got under way. In September 1964, California State Public Works authorized purchase of the town of North Bloomfield and 77 additional acres. This was the original park layout.
The next year, the park became officially part of the state system and formally designated Malakoff Diggin’s State Historic Park or Malakoff Diggin’s SHP. At this point there were no facilities for camping or other recreational pursuits. The park’s first ranger, Eric Leffingwell, arrived with his family from Stinson Beach State Park and took residence in one of North Bloomfield frame houses that lined Main Street.
Leffingwell supervised construction of the park’s first improvements and remained some eight years before being transferred. He had much volunteer help from Helen and Dick Rohde, residents of Relief Hill Road just outside the park boundaries.
The Rohdes had retired to their “little acre of independence,” a few years before the park was formed. The couple worked tirelessly for more than 25 years on the many committees and helped with countless other park projects. The Rohdes’ moved into town some 12 years ago because, as Dick says, “it was getting a little hairy to drive the unpaved roads in winter.”
Another premier group of volunteers were members of Nevada City’s Wm. Bull Meek-Wm. Morris Stewart, Chapter No. 10, E Clampus Vitus. Among the Clamper’s projects was the reconstruction of the King’s Saloon building, which is open one day a year and serves beer during the park’s annual celebration called “Humbug Days.” This activity emphasizes the many recreational and educational opportunities offered by the park. All proceeds from the sale of beer and food sales benefit park projects.
The name Humbug was the original name of North Bloomfield. It comes from an exaggerated claim by a drunken miner in 1852; that there was “enormous amounts of gold in the creek” that skirted the budding town. When followers found only minute amounts of gold, they termed the venture a “humbug,” or a hoax. The name remains today in Humbug Creek.
Another of the Clamper projects was the construction of picnic tables from boards made from Nevada City’s fallen Christmas Tree, a giant sequoia (see ‘Christmas Trees Through The Years,’ The Union, Dec. 24, 2004). The facility is appropriately named the Clampicnic Area and is near the McKillican-Mobley general store on Main Street. The chapter has also placed – at their own expense – numerous bonze plaques denoting historic events and structures in the park.
Today, in Cumming’s Hall, the park headquarters is a museum and interpretive center. Here are displayed exhibits pertaining to hydraulic mining along with many period photographs. The McKillican-Mobley general store has been restored as has Knotwell’s Drug Store and the Quitman Masonic Lodge. Other buildings are in the process of rebuilding or restoration.
There are two rustic miner’s cabins for rent and many developed family campsites. A number of hiking trails cross the park and the “old swimming hole,” is the Blare reservoir. There is no lifeguard on duty.
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