The Rubicon Trail was in the news throughout 2012. Much of the news was good, including the Jeeper’s Jamboree celebrating its 60th run, and the county supervisors paving the way for work on the trail, but the trail was also struck by tragedy in 2012.
Rachel Anne Gray, a 21-year-old from El Dorado Hills, was involved in a Jeep rollover during the Jamboree event, eventually succumbing to injuries. She died on Sept. 1. Gray was being treated at UC Davis Medical Center for burns covering 75 percent of her body. Her left leg below the knee had to be amputated.
Gray was traveling on the Rubicon Trail in Placer County, “heading northbound on the trail, near the middle of Cadillac Hill” when she veered off the side of the road, said Officer Dan Stark of the CHP. The vehicle rolled over multiple times, ejecting Gray and Mike Baggerman, 34, of Pilot Hill.
The trail saw better days when El Dorado County Supervisors signed a “historic” compact with the Eldorado National Forest in August that cleared the way for future work on the Rubicon Trail. The agreement grants easements in and on the forest so the county’s department of transportation can provide much-needed maintenance for the Rubicon. The Trail has been a public road since the 1800s, but ownership, right-of-way issues and environmental concerns have dogged the so-called “Crown Jewel” of the 4×4 community for decades. The annual Jeepers Jamboree, whose 60th anniversary was recognized this year, made the Trail a celebrity of international proportions.
Both the forest service and the county issued statements at the time describing the significance of the agreement.
“The easement officially memorializes the trail’s location, El Dorado County’s ongoing maintenance obligation, and most importantly, the public’s right to use the Rubicon Trail,” the county’s statement reads in part.
“The easement was the last major step in formalizing the county’s right of way through the national forest,” Forest Supervisor Kathy Hardy said in the USFS statement. “This is a major accomplishment. But, equally important was the way citizens, county leaders, and the Forest Service worked together to get it done.”
Controversy arose almost immediately when county DOT crews carried out part of a Clean-up and Abatement Order from the state’s water quality control board issued in 2009. That CAO required the county to alter the portion of the Trail known as the Little Sluice Box (that is, restore it to its earlier condition). OHV enthusiasts from all over the country sent a blizzard of e-mails to the Board of Supervisors protesting the action. The ruling called for reduction or elimination of large boulders that had been moved into the Little Sluice over the years to intensify the challenge to OHV drivers and machines.
In late November, county supervisors approved a plan recommended by District 3’s Jack Sweeney to secure a funding stream for ongoing maintenance on the trail. Authorized under an agreement between the county and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, SMUD will pay nearly $600,000 annually for road maintenance related to its Upper American River Project. A portion of that money will be set aside specifically for maintenance and law enforcement activities on and around the Rubicon Trail. Sweeney suggested $200,000 for roads and $150,000 for law enforcement, however the amounts and proportions will be determined later in the year — closer to the time the funds from SMUD actually are deposited.
Managing editor Patrick Ibarra contributed to this story.