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Forest Service should either help TRAC or get out of the way

Feather Publishing
8/15/2014
It’s no secret: Plumas County has reached a tipping point.

Schools once full stand empty and closed, boarded-up businesses haunt our streets, and the roar of the railroad has all but faded to a distant memory.


The numbers tell a similar story. Plumas Unified School District enrollment — almost 3,400 students in 2000 — now stands just above 2,100. According to state statistics, Plumas County’s population decline of 3.9 percent between 2000 and 2010 was the second highest in the state. From 2010 to 2013, a population drop from 20,007 to 18,859 means an exodus of 5.7 percent at the rate of 382 people per year. And with an unemployment rate of 17 percent in 2010, it’s hard to blame those who leave.

These aren’t just statistics. These are parents and students, coaches and athletes, business owners and artists. They are neighbors, friends and the fabric of a community.

But hope remains. People like Tim Rhode and the other members of Trails for Recreation and Community want to not only stop the drain of residents leaving the county, but reverse it.

To the town of Oakridge, Oregon, our story sounds all too familiar. Following the collapse of logging and the railroad in its region, the community of 3,000 rallied to transform itself into the mountain-biking capital of the Northwest.

As noted in last week’s paper, 14 businesses have opened on Main Street since Oakridge installed a new trail network in 2010.

Under TRAC’s Mohawk Rim Trail Plan, new trails would be built to connect Portola, Graeagle, Lake Davis and Mount Hough, placing local communities as hubs for tourism and recreation. The trails maximize Plumas County’s location near Reno, Tahoe, Sacramento and the Bay Area to create a draw unrivaled in Northern California.

With each biker, hiker and kayaker who comes to our region there arrive more families, business and exposure. Some recreationalists will recommend Plumas County to their friends. Some may even decide to stay.

TRAC has the plan. It has the people. It even has the fundraising capacity to make the dream a reality.

What it doesn’t have is an easy path through the U.S. Forest Service’s bureaucracy.

It’s hard to accomplish a grand project when even small trail efforts remain stalled.

Almost a year has passed since two nesting bald eagles were discovered near the proposed singletrack trail circling Lake Davis. A representative from the Beckwourth Ranger District said that Phase 2 of the trail will move ahead in October after a re-route but that Phase 3 will not happen next year.

We understand the need for building trails in a sustainable and conscientious manner. We understand that the Forest Service needs to protect itself against lawsuits. We understand that lack of staff and funds will slow trail projects.

We don’t understand how a simple re-route of a single trail has taken a year.

The district ranger said that despite her wishes to support more recreation infrastructure and work with TRAC, her office’s priorities are handcuffed to an outdated forest plan scheduled for an update in three to five years. Even if the Beckwourth Ranger District receives funding for multiple projects one year, it may not receive it the next year.

Plumas County may not have three to five years.

Sure, the towns will still be here, scratching out an existence from a few government jobs and retirees. But if current trends hold, over 1,000 more people will have left our county in five years’ time — the equivalent of hundreds of students and professionals vanishing from our towns.

The Forest Service can do better. We can all do better.

Imagine if Forest Service employees volunteered to join with TRAC and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship program to build trails outside of work hours. Imagine if they started more outreach programs for elementary and high school students — including guided walks of our county’s historical sites — to ensure that citizens utilize trails and care for the forest in a responsible way.

Imagine if they put down the cups of coffee and picked up a shovel.

There’s no reason why Plumas County can’t become the next Oakridge. Our biggest challenge is government complacency and our own apathy.

This isn’t the fault of the district rangers. The forest supervisor’s office should immediately begin consolidating efforts among the different districts to prioritize a trail network for eastern Plumas County. Oakridge was able to join with the Forest Service to create its trail system, eventually receiving a $400,000 grant from the International Mountain Biking Association. Why not us?

Drawing people to Plumas County also extends beyond the Forest Service. We can all attend TRAC meetings and continue to urge the forest supervisor’s office to prioritize trails. We can all call our congressional representatives and encourage them to vote for the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, which would direct the secretary of agriculture to increase the role of volunteers and partners in helping the Forest Service build and maintain trails.

A major outdoors attraction in one community will benefit all communities. We can either act now to hold the Forest Service to its mission of “listening to people and responding to their diverse needs” or sleepwalk to our self-destruction.




Editorials are written by members of the editorial board and should be considered the opinion of the newspaper. The board consists of the publisher, managing editor and the appropriate staff writers.


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