County wilderness proposal riles bicyclists | SierraSun.com

County wilderness proposal riles bicyclists

Tim Omarzu, Sun News Service

NEVADA CITY – Should Castle Peak and Grouse Ridge become Nevada County’s first-ever federally designated wilderness areas?

A Davis-based environmental group and its local supporters think so. The California Wilderness Coalition issued a report Monday seeking wilderness designation for millions of acres of California back country – including Castle Peak and Grouse Ridge.

But wilderness designation prohibits “mechanized transport” and Nevada County mountain bikers are worried they’ll be shut off trails, especially in the popular Grouse Ridge area.

Mountain bikers are trying to rally opposition to wilderness designation, including the Nevada County/Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce. Its board will decide Friday whether to oppose wilderness designation.

“It eliminates access,” said John Gardiner of Bicyclists of Nevada County, who wrote the chamber, saying there are alternatives to wilderness designation that still protect the environment.

“Grouse Ridge is already a roadless area, and it has been for 17 years,” he said. “It’s been protected from any kind of logging and any kind of motorized use.”

Don Rivenes, of the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, disagrees.

Rivenes wrote a letter to the chamber saying that “permanently preserving the Grouse Lakes and Castle Peak roadless area would benefit tourism and our local economy.

“As more and more people are moving to the Sierra foothills, it will become more difficult to go where one can find solitude and grandeur,” he wrote.

Contacted Tuesday, Rivenes said that although the Forest Service bans motorized vehicle use in Grouse Ridge, that’s an administrative decision and “we just don’t have a guarantee that it will remain that way.”

“Wilderness (designation) will protect it,” he said.

Chamber President Mary Ann Mueller didn’t want to speak on behalf of her board Tuesday. But she thought board members would oppose wilderness designation.

“My sense is they feel this is something that should not become more restrictive,” Mueller said.

Rivenes said the proposed Castle Peak wilderness area was redrawn to exclude the popular Hole-in-the-Wall trail to accommodate mountain bikers. Gardiner said the proposed Grouse Ridge wilderness would exclude bikers from a whole network of trails.

The wilderness coalition released the results of a four-year inventory of land it believes is eligible for protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act and 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The report concludes that 7.4 million acres – 7 percent of the state’s land – and 4,000 miles of free-flowing rivers should be protected under those laws.

Two remote Nevada County streams, Upper Independence Creek and Sagehen Creek, are recommended for protection in the report.