The red tape has finally caught up with reality on the Rubicon Trail. Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Kathy Hardy updated the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors Tuesday on her agency’s efforts over the past two years to authorize the county to do maintenance on selected portions of the trail. She and her staff presented the “Rubicon Trail Easement and Resource Improvement Project” to the board and the public.
The 22-mile road meanders through private property, El Dorado County territory and U.S. Forest Service land between Wentworth Springs near Georgetown and the El Dorado-Placer County line on its way to Lake Tahoe. It has been a public road since the 1860s and is often called the “Crown Jewel” of the Off-Highway Vehicle experience. The Jeepers Jamboree has made the Rubicon a world-class 4X4 destination since the early 1950s.
Fast-forward to January 2009 when the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a Cleanup and Abatement Order to El Dorado County and its Department of Transportation. Activity on the Rubicon Trail was causing a host of water quality issues and accompanying ecological problems such as deposits of human excrement alongside the route, according to the CAO. Failure to comply in a timely manner could result in fines of up to $10,000 a day, said the order.
The county and the forest service then began a process to determine who was responsible for which parts of the trail and therefore obliged to satisfy the requirements of the ruling. The order focused on approximately 8.5 miles of the trail of which the county was deemed liable for about 6.2 miles that cross Eldorado National Forest lands. Federal law determined that the county should apply for an easement in order to perform trail maintenance over that federal land.
Applying for the easement triggered the need for the forest service to conduct an environmental study to determine potential negative impacts related to the county’s proposed maintenance projects. The study which included public “scoping” sessions took several months after which the forest service produced a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and announced its intent to prepare an EIS related to the trail projects.
That notice of intent was published in the Federal Register Sept. 2, 2011 and the EIS was completed in December last year. The process included developing alternatives and mitigation measures for each identified “negative impact.” Completion of the process and awarding of the easement was announced by Hardy in April.
In her presentation to supervisors, Hardy and her staff reviewed the history and status of the overall project beginning with the “need for a clearly defined right of way for the Rubicon Trail along with clearly defined authority and responsibility for its upkeep.”
The presentation further described the need to reduce runoff that potentially may contribute to the “discharge of sediment and other waste into the waters of the state” and control of the disposal of human waste “from public users of the Rubicon Trail.”
In general, the easement will be 25 feet on each side of the road’s centerline with some exceptions at particularly narrow portions of the trail identified as Post Pile and Little Sluice. The county will remove and replace a wooden bridge erected by Friends of the Rubicon Trail, construct a steel truss bridge over Ellis Creek and improve the “fords” at one or more river crossings.
The broader project authorizes the county to “install and maintain erosion control features along the Rubicon Trail from Wentworth Springs Campground to the county line.” Erosion control will follow guidelines established in the county’s Saturated Soil Water Quality Protection Plan. The plan is designed to regulate and mitigate the impact from vehicle use during the wet season, and it prevents a proposed closure of the trail during rainy months.
Construction and maintenance of six vault toilets along the trail will be done by the county or the forest service or by “others” at a later time, while one existing toilet will be relocated “out of a flood plain.”
The “Easement and Resource Improvement Project” also calls for closure and “rehabilitation” of approximately 2.23 miles of “unauthorized routes” (37 total). Unauthorized routes include areas where vehicles have veered off the trail for whatever reason, (to go around a large rock, for example), and over time that detour becomes an unauthorized route. Rehabilitation methods include posting signs or moving large boulders or other natural barriers into the area to prevent further use.
A little less than one-half mile of unauthorized routes will be added particularly to accommodate “high clearance vehicles” to enable greater access to dispersed recreation areas. That element of the project will add parking areas beyond the easement for 12 vehicles to park “off of designated routes.”
The final section of the plan as presented by the forest service notes that the Saturated Soil Management Plan will be implemented for wet season vehicle use.
After Tuesday’s meeting, DOT Deputy Director Tom Celio said, with a Cheshire Cat grin, that the official paperwork is now in place “authorizing” the work that DOT crews have already done and are doing “as we speak.”
Celio added that he is retiring at the end of the month after many years in county service.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or email@example.com. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.