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Take a hike in springtime

Leading a group of hikers down a wooded trail by the South Yuba River, Joe Chavez suddenly stopped

Chavez, a public service officer with the U.S. Forest Service, had spotted a fallen pine tree, about as thick as a city light pole, across the trail ahead. He turned and grinned.

“That’s not so bad,” Chavez said.



Thrusting his shoulder against the tree, Chavez heaved the fallen pine off the trail and into the mossy underbrush.

Chavez slapped his hands together to remove lingering traces of bark and turned to the hikers.




“That was easy,” he said, chuckling.

The hike was an opportunity for both Chavez – and the trail – to shake off winter as the region’s weather moves toward spring, making hiking trails more accessible for outdoor recreation.

Spring is generally considered one of the best seasons for hiking in Nevada County, especially for viewing wildflowers and wildlife, said Mike Smittle, a ranger from South Yuba River State Park.

“People have cabin fever,” said Smittle. “They’re ready to get out and hike on the trails. The nicest part is the weather is nice: It’s not too hot; everything is green.”

Smittle, who works at the Bridgeport visitor center of South Yuba River State Park, said wildflowers already are blooming in many of the county’s parks. Hikers can see California poppies, lupines, red bud and nearly 100 other wildflower varieties along South Yuba River trails from March until May. The park also offers guided walks starting from the Buttermilk Bend Trailhead at 11 a.m. each Saturday and Sunday.

Even while recent storms have kept temperatures mild and wildflowers blooming in the foothills, hikers should remember simple safety precautions such as remembering sunscreen, bringing enough water and avoiding poison oak on the trails Smittle said.

“We recommend you hike with a friend,” Smittle said. “It’s just safer, not only (preventing danger) from people or animal life, but in case you get injured, you’ve got somebody there to help you.”

Thinking of enjoying a springtime hike in Nevada County? Here are some great hikes for viewing wildflowers and catching a glimpse of wildlife:

• The South Yuba Trail, near Washington off Highway 20 east of Nevada City, winds along the river for 16 miles before reaching Edwards Crossing, north of Nevada City.

The south-facing trail can get hot in the summer, making spring a perfect time to hike it. Make sure to check out remnants of the mining industry lying in the underbrush.

The trail has views of the river, especially beaches and tranquil pools tucked alongside the canyon walls. But don’t let the water tempt you on a warm day. That water is melted ice and faster than it looks; the cold temperature, swift current and suction created as it flows among sunken boulders cause incautious people to drown in those pools nearly every year.

For more information, call the U.S. Forest Service at (530) 265-4531.

• Spenceville Wildlife Refuge near Smartsville has a number of trails, including a 5-mile round trip ending at a waterfall.

The refuge west of Grass Valley, just over the Yuba County line and south of Highway 20, covers nearly 12,000 acres of mostly rolling grassland covered in blue oaks and wildflowers.

Bird watching during the spring is popular here: More than 160 species have been documented at the refuge. Visit Spenceville.org for more information or call the California Department of Fish and Game at (530) 538-2236.

• The Buttermilk Bend Trail in the South Yuba River State Park is a favorite among Nevada County residents. Guided walks for wildflowers and bird watching are offered in the spring by docents at Bridgeport.

Hikers also can take self-guided tours, as many of the wildflowers are labeled along the trail; guide books are for sale in the visitor center. Visitors may even catch a glimpse of nesting bald eagles that have returned to the area.

Take Highway 20 west of Grass Valley, turn north on Pleasant Valley Road, and enjoy the view. Call (530) 432-2546 or visit http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=496.

• The Independence Trail is another favorite in spring, especially for families. The eastern section of the trail follows an old mining flume for 2 1/2 miles to Rush Creek, where California newts (also known as orange-bellied newts) can be seen in the water.

As an alternative, check out the trail on the north side of the South Yuba River to Hoyt’s Crossing. This trail is on the opposite side of the river from the Independence Trail. It starts from the old Highway 49 Bridge and travels upstream for nearly a mile along the river, climbing over river boulders and passing small beaches of water-polished rocks.

To get there, take Highway 49 north from Nevada City, and watch for the signs and parking areas on the side of the highway. For more information, call (530) 432-2546.

Christopher Arns is a freelance writer and graduate student at California State University, Sacramento, studying international relations.


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