Paul Matson: The Malakoff
My first visit to Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park was in 1970. I love it just as much today as I did then, when in its infancy as a park. I keep going back.
As we look for nearby, local safe places to get away from it all, especially now in the face of COVID-19, consider a visit to Malakoff Diggins. There are opportunities there, as well as opportunities to help out.
While the buildings are closed due to current conditions, the flavor is everywhere. When visiting a few weeks ago a big cinnamon bear was sauntering across the main street with confidence. There is a nice self-guided tour which includes Chinese settlements, and details of the millions of gallons of water that flooded the valley resulting in the Sawyer decision, which declared hydraulic mining illegal in 1884.
And there’s a creek running through town called Humbug Creek. At the outset the town itself was called Humbug, and in non-pandemic years there is a very fun event called Humbug Days with a little parade, food and drink, gold panning lessons and more.
I like taking Highway 49 to Tyler Foote Road to enter the park. To get the flavor of the early days — in your high clearance vehicle — consider taking the unpaved, bumpy North Bloomfield Road home, across the river at Edwards Crossing, and up the hill.
As you wind your way down the road to the park there is a wonderful vista of the Diggins. It’s a huge man-made excavation 7,000 feet long, 3,000 feet wide and in some places 200 feet deep. The debris the high-pressure water cannons generated — along with other hydraulic mines — filled the San Francisco Bay at the rate of a foot per year, and hit Marysville and Yuba City hard with tons of mud and rock.
At the next stop there is a view of Hiller tunnel that was constructed to remove the massive amounts of water and debris from the Diggins, in the quest for gold.
When you enter the town, you’ll see a quaint school house and a church. “Babe” Pinaglia purchased the church in 1969. Slated for demolition it was moved from French Corral to North Bloomfield. Built in 1860 to train civil war soldiers, in 1910 it became a church dubbed the Birchville Catholic Church. Babe owned North San Juan’s “Babe’s” Brass Rail, now known as the Brass Rail. In 1969 he had the church taken apart board-by-board and moved to North Bloomfield. In 1971 the California Youth Authority reassembled it. Thank you Babe!
The cemetery behind the church, managed by Nevada County, is active to this day. It’s definitely worth a walk through. It is filled with people’s graves from the town’s early days, and those from more recent times that just want to be there.
Malakoff boasts a lot of nice trails; some short and easy and some miles long with significant elevation changes. While the Humbug Trail is temporarily closed due to a major mudslide, the Missouri Bar Trail is open. It’s a 1.5-mile, hike through Forest Service land down to the river. With an elevation drop of 1,100 feet, the hike back up is quite a bit more work than the hike down. There are numerous others, both short and long, taking you to points of interest and around the “rim.”
The Chute Hill Campground has 30 spacious campsites, and is “reservation only.” Visit http://www.reservecalifornia.com to make a reservation visit.
In the meantime, our State Park system is under duress. The pandemic has resulted in funding problems and staff shortages. Also, our South Yuba River locations which normally experience around 500,000 visitors per year are on track this year for 800,000 river visitors!
To help fill the breach there is something new; the Sierra Gold Parks Foundation. It serves all three of our western Nevada County state parks: Malakoff, South Yuba River and Empire Mine. Money always helps out big time, and there is never a lack of maintenance in a town filled with Gold Rush era buildings, and a comprehensive trail system.
If you’d like to join in there are plenty of chances to donate, and work on trails, the Living History program, education, and when they are allowed again, helping out with events. Appropriate vetting and training are provided by State Parks. Both volunteer and financial support are rewarding, needed and appreciated. Just visit https://www.sierragoldparksfoundation.org to learn all about it.
Paul Matson, who lives in Nevada City, is a former Nevada City City Council member and current member of The Union Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not reflect the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board. Write to him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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