CAMTB attends Recreation Roundtable with Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship & CA Natural Resources Agency.
In late April, Michael Anzalone, CAMTB Executive Director, and Steve Messer, Board President of CAMTB took part in a Recreation Roundtable with the California Natural Resources Agency, Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, US Forest Service, and Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Organized by our partners at Outdoor Alliance, the two-day meeting gave the CNRA leadership the opportunity to learn more about the SBTS’ bold vision to revitalize the Lost Sierra through trails in their Connected Communities initiative.
The Lost Sierra’s rural communities have suffered tremendous hardship in recent times, first from the decline of extractive uses such as timber production and mining, then a pandemic that decimated local tourism. When the Dixie fire wiped Greenville off the map and burned for over 100 days in 2021, Williams’ vision for Connected Communities became much more than a great idea, it’s become a ray of hope that local communities have rallied around.
On hand for the two-day meeting were the CNRA leadership, including Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of Natural Resources, Dr. Jennifer Norris, Deputy Secretary for Biodiversity, Katherine Toy, Deputy Secretary for Access, and Madeline Drake, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Biodiversity. Outdoor Alliance brought together US Forest Service staff from the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests, and Jim Bacon and Garrett Villanueva from Region 5. Also on hand were reps from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Friends of Plumas Wilderness, American Whitewater, Outdoor Industry Association, the Sierra Business Council, the Mountain Maidu tribe, Doug Houston, Congressman LaMalfa’s district rep, and several members of the SBTS team.
Over the course of the two days, we learned first-hand the immense scope of Williams’ vision, the incredible amount of public outreach they have done to build support for the project, and some of the many challenges they face in planning and implementing the project. We also learned how they’ve been able to put people to work, with a payroll of 67 for the summer of ‘22. Staying at the Greenhorn Ranch for the night, lots of quality time with like-minded, quality people was spent around the fireplace talking about trails and other life experiences that brought us all together.
The CNRA staff knew of the Connected Communities project, but this was their first time getting a more detailed overview directly from Williams and the SBTS staff. Greg covered how they conducted public outreach and had the communities’ buy-in long before a shovel would hit the ground. We learned of a number of individual projects and local trail networks that are in various stages of planning, environmental review, and implementation. We also learned how expensive this project will be, with an $840k cost just for environmental review for one project area covering about 60 miles of new trail. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy has been a great partner to SBTS, with their grant funds moving projects forward. SBTS is proud of the diversity of funding sources they have garnered thus far, with less than half of their funding coming from government grants.
On day two, the group shuttled up to the Four Corners trailhead to hike the Chandler trail, a multi-use trail open to motorcycles, that was constructed using OHV funding sources and completed in 2021. We saw first-hand how a properly constructed trail built to modern sustainable trail design principles held up, not just to motorized use, but also to one of the harshest winters in recent memory. Rolling contour trails with grade reversals and sustainable grades made for a great hike with no evidence of erosion after the winter storms.
But more importantly, and of special interest to the CNRA, was Williams and the Forest Service’s vision for using trails to provide firefighting access to the landscape, and combining fuels reduction treatments with recreational infrastructure planning. This is all very much in keeping with the governor’s 30×30 initiative, which, in addition to protecting biodiversity and habitats, also aims to revitalize economically distressed communities and improve wildfire resilience and equity of access.
According to SBTS, the Connected Communities Project aims to stimulate the economies of rural communities by improving trail access and connectivity and encouraging diverse user types to explore and recreate on public lands by linking 15 mountain towns by trails. Working with the USFS, SBTS has also identified how this plan can also help with wildfire resilience, by using trails to access landscapes in order to fight fires or conduct fuels reduction. We also saw segments of the 1800 miles of dozer lines constructed on an emergency basis to protect communities during the Dixie Fire and the impacts they had on existing trails. But there may also be an opportunity to utilize some of those dozer lines as shaded fuel breaks and in some instances, as a corridor for recreational trails.
Participants came away from the two-day meeting inspired to see such a bold vision coming to life. We came away aware of the immense bureaucracy that is the environmental review process, with the CNRA beginning to think about how these reviews can be streamlined or consolidated for more efficiency. We also came away inspired to see this model replicated in other rural communities around California.
The next steps are for Williams to meet with more of the CNRA staff in Sacramento, and go over the plan in detail. They aim to find opportunities to streamline the planning and review process so that implementation can happen sooner.
The project ties into our advocacy work on the federal BOLT Act, as well as the state’s AB411, Scenic Bikeways and Trails Act. Their proposed Lost Sierra Route could be eligible for designation under both of these pieces of legislation, helping promote the area’s growing options for mountain bikers and all trail users.
CAMTB has been engaged with the Governor’s 30×30 initiative from the start, and this project, with its nexus of trails, recreation, economic revitalization, and wildfire resilience, embodies that initiative. It was an inspiring few days that left everyone in attendance excited to see the plan come to fruition. We fully support the SBTS in its mission to connect and support the communities of the Lost Sierra. They’re creating great trail experiences throughout the area’s beautiful public lands for us all to explore and enjoy.