Open at last |

Open at last

John HartLunar-like piles of gravel border the Yuba River at the recently accessible Yuba Goldfields.
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The playground is open.

After years of legal battles, the gates have finally swung open to Hammonton Road and the Yuba Goldfields, a 10,000-acre expanse of gravel and cobble alongside the Yuba River.

About a 20-minute drive from Grass Valley, the goldfields are a playground of roughly 5,000 acres of public land just waiting to be explored.

This time of year, for instance, you can watch giant chinook salmon spawn in the Yuba’s gravel beds. Until now, there’s hardly been any access to the salmon-rich section of the river between Highway 20 and Marysville.

It’s a strange-looking place. The goldfields were created when hydraulic gold miners used high pressure water hoses to wash away countless tons of gravel and rounded rock at “diggins” in the Yuba watershed. The gravel and cobble worked its way down the Yuba River and wound up in the goldfields, halfway between Marysville and Yuba City.

Such a huge amount washed downstream that the goldfields are a mile wide in some spots.

Miners didn’t let the rock rest.

Using huge floating dredges, they sifted through the rubble looking for (and finding) even more gold. These big boats spit out the picked-over rock, leaving long, narrow piles of gravel you can still see. It gives the rock piles a ribbed texture, sort of like a pair of corduroy pants.

Like I say, it’s a strange-looking place.

Some of this old dredging equipment has been left in the goldfields, including a dredge in a pond. There are lots of ponds in the goldfields, and even an old ghost town left behind from the heyday of dredging.

Yet the goldfields have been off limits for years. Until recently, locked gates blocked Hammonton Road, and private security guards patrolled the goldfields, arresting those who dared to trespass.

Western Aggregates, a goldfields gravel company, put up the gates and hired the guards, arguing it owned Hammonton Road. But a group called the Yuba Goldfields Access Coalition battled for public use.

To make a long legal story short, the California 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled this year that the road is public. So for about two months, it has been open.

Instead of squinty-eyed security guards, I was greeted by friendly fellow visitors as I rode my bike down Hammonton Road Monday.

Anglers have already figured out that the road is open.

Every time I stopped and looked at the river, I saw spawning salmon. And fishermen were right there, too.

“Oh man, they’re using it all over the place. They’re out there fly fishing,” said Bill Calvert, a longtime Goldfields resident who fought for public access.

Not all of the goldfields is public. But you’re OK if you stay on Hammonton Road, Calvert said.

And the Bureau of Land Management has painted big lines on paved sections of Hammonton Road, showing where the public land starts and he private begins.

You can stay on this public land and get right down to the river, Calvert said.

Tim Omarzu writes for The Union. Contact him at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; 477-4237; or

Go for the gold

– To get to the Yuba Goldfields, take Highway 20 west towards Marysville and turn left just before the Parks Bar bridge over the Yuba River. Go down under the bridge and veer left until you find Hammonton Road, a rough, rocky route that heads downstream along the Yuba. Access may be difficult in a low-clearance vehicle.

– For a map showing public and private land in the Yuba Goldfields, contact the Bureau of Land Management’s Folsom office at (916) 985-4474.

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