Grass Valley: A creek runs through it
November 9, 2002
I lived in rural Nevada County for 25 years before moving to town, and even back then we heard rumors of it. When we moved to Grass Valley eight years ago, the rumors were confirmed. Some of the old-timers still pronounce it “Woof Creek,” but on the maps it is spelled “Wolf Creek.” And indeed, it runs right through the heart of our beautiful town.
Wolf Creek begins on the slopes of Banner Mountain and flows for about 20 miles to its confluence with the Bear River (a few miles downstream from the Highway 49 bridge). For about four of those miles – from Brunswick Road to the end of Freeman Lane beyond the sewage treatment plant – it is within the city limits of Grass Valley. In a few places, it has been channelized, or even hidden completely under a parking lot and when it passes under the freeway.
But for the most part it can be seen flowing freely on its way, through blackberries along Idaho-Maryland Road, between the frontage road and East Main Street behind the post office, before diving into a culvert in the Gra-Neva parking lot. When it emerges again behind the Safeway, it has gotten even bigger, and has a lovely run between the backyards of Mill Street and the freeway, under Highway 20, and into the beautiful little park with foot bridges and picnic tables at the Northstar Museum. Then on to the sewage treatment plant, the back of Raley’s (Pine Creek Center), the subdivision at the end of Freeman Lane and to the city limits.
Just a month or two ago, I was walking along the creek behind the Safeway and came across a great blue heron standing knee-deep facing upstream, obviously fishing. After eyeing me for a few moments, she took off. A few wing flaps brought her over the freeway as she headed down toward French Ravine.
Wolf Creek has many tributaries. In addition to French Ravine in the city limits are Whitewater Creek, Olympia Creek, Matson Creek, Slide Ravine, South Fork Wolf Creek, Peabody Creek and Rhode Island Ravine.
The city of Grass Valley is to be commended for some thoughtful planning it has done regarding its waterways. The current General Plan has specified, as part of its goals and objectives, that it will “protect, enhance, and restore hydrologic features, including stream corridors, flood plains, wetlands, and riparian zones,” and the “development of an extensive trail network” that will provide “an integrated pedestrian/bicycle/equestrian ‘greenway’ system for recreation and nonmotorized transportation uses” that “provides linkages between neighborhoods, recreation areas and parks, commercial, employment, and cultural centers.”
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These proposed trails include the “Wolf Creek and South Fork Wolf Creek corridors, and Nevada Irrigation District canals,” and the “plan provides for a comprehensive system, not just isolated segments, for non-motorized use.”
These are indeed noble aspirations. However, versions of the trails concept have been part of Grass Valley’s General Plan since the first General Plan was adopted in August 1966. Precious little progress has been made in 35 years.
At the recent all-day Downtown Grass Valley Strategic Planning workshop, more than 100 participants were divided into eight groups and directed to list improvements that would benefit the town. Every group listed the restoration of Wolf Creek as one of its highest priorities.
However, just a few days later, the City Council heard a presentation from a hotel developer who is planning what may be the most significant development in downtown Grass Valley for decades, and hardly a voice was raised in objection when the developer said he could not restore the creek on that property because it was more important to park cars on top of it.
Many other communities have restored their creeks – the beautiful “ribbon” park along Butte Creek in Chico is only one of many examples. A healthy flowing creek and trail through the center of town will have important economic and social values: A living classroom for school kids; a cool, pleasant stroll for residents and visitors; and an excellent way to get from one side of town to the other without getting in a car.
The creek runs just a few feet below the surface of the old Gra-Neva parking lot. The time has come for Grass Valley to live up to its promise, and to start treating Wolf Creek like the city treasure that it is.
The city must make crystal clear that any improvement on this property and elsewhere up and down the waterways must start with the restoration of Wolf Creek. It is time for the city to fulfill its promise to “protect, enhance, and restore” its beautiful stream corridors for our own and future generations.
Jonathan Keehn lives in Grass Valley.