By Paul Shigley May 3, 2011
A major volunteer trail work day is scheduled for this Saturday, May 7, at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. You might call it Don’t Tread on the Salmon Day.
Let me explain.
The Clear Creek Canal Trail runs for more than four miles roughly parallel to Paige Bar Road from just below Clair Hill Whiskeytown Dam to Horse Camp. Because the trail mostly follows an old water ditch, it has a very slight, imperceptible grade – with one major exception. At Orofino Gulch, the trail plunges sharply downhill to Orofino Creek and then back up.
This short section is known not-so-fondly as The Ditch of Death and has eroded badly. In the 15 years that I’ve been a regular user, I’ve seen the combination of use and rain carve the trail two to four feet into the hillsides. All of that soil washed into Orofino Creek, which flows into Clear Creek. Numerous agencies have poured a ton of money and effort into reviving Clear Creek’s salmon and steelhead fishery, and the fish have returned. However, fine sediment can choke a stream and harm spawning grounds.
So Whiskeytown park officials with major assistance from you, dear hiker-mountain biker-trail runner-horseback rider-nature lover, intend to reroute Clear Creek Canal Trail around the Ditch of Death in order to decrease erosion and let the old trail heal.
The new route will be roughly 400 yards long and will snake down to the creek more gently. Bob Boecking, who heads the Redding Mountain Bike club and works on the Whiskeytown crew, has heard from fellow mountain bikers who don’t want to see the trail moved. Advanced riders enjoy the challenge presented by the Ditch of Death’s steep slope, ruts, rocks and roots.
However, Boecking noted, most mountain bikers (including yours truly) have to dismount, as do many horse riders, because the trail is simply too treacherous. Yet the trail is part of the courses for the Lemurian and Whiskeytown Classic mountain bike races, the Whiskeytown Off-Road Duathlon, and the Whiskeytown Chaser endurance horse ride.
“The planned route is going to be a lot more fun to ride than the trail is now,” Boecking said. He likens the project to the one a few years ago that rerouted the Rich Gulch Trail at the infamous “chimney” above Upper Brandy Creek Trail. Mountain bikers called that ride The Chimney (they still do) because shooting down that steep section that had eroded deeply into the hillside was just like dropping down a chimney. However, just about everyone loves the rerouted trail because it’s more fun to traverse and much prettier.
The park’s crew has already cleared the poison oak and other brush at the location of the Clear Creek Canal Trail’s new route. Now, the park is looking for about 100 volunteers to put in the actual trail tread.
Volunteers should plan to arrive at the NEED camp on Paige Bar Road by 8 a.m. on Saturday for coffee, doughnut and a quick training session before heading out for about a half day’s worth of work. Barbecued burgers and dogs will be waiting afterward. You don’t need to register in advance, and you don’t need any special equipment other than work gloves and sturdy shoes. Sunscreen, bug juice and a full water bottle are good ideas. To learn more, call the park headquarters at (530) 242-3400.