Revamping trail system ‘a remarkable achievement’ |

Revamping trail system ‘a remarkable achievement’

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE “-People who hike or ride mountain bikes and horses along trails in Empire Mine State Historic Park have a month to comment on reports that analyze trail routes altered by a project to clean up mine waste and preserve spotted owls.

The park’s draft report includes details of the project’s environmental impacts, mitigation measures and maps of proposed trails.

“Considering the challenge of balancing public access and recreation with resource protection, as well as remediating mine waste all at the same time, this resulting plan is a remarkable collaborative achievement,” said Park Superintendent Ron Munson.

Last week, the park released its 113-page draft of the Osborne Hill Trail Network Project for public review. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control released a similar report. The comment period for both reports ends Dec. 24.

Once the trail project report is approved, remediation work and trail construction could begin as soon as January, Munson said. Reopening the Prescott Mine area will be a priority, he added.

The new trails will be designed by one of the state’s premiere trail construction specialists, Karl Knapp. He teaches trail construction classes to the National Park Service and other agencies throughout the country, said Munson.

“They’re all going to be multi-use. That was a clear message at the public workshop,” he said “They’re going to be really first-class trails.”

The reports come a year after a public workshop was held to gather input on the park’s network of trails and proposed reorganization necessary to keep trail users safe from heavy metal exposure.

Of the park’s 14 miles of trails, 1.5 miles have been temporarily fenced off since last year after elevated levels of arsenic were detected. Exposure can cause adverse health effects, according to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Other trail segments were left open after receiving a layer of gravel to cap the metals.

The park is working with the state and former mine owner, Newmont USA Ltd., to clean up the site and provide new and re-routed trails.

Mining activity occurred within what is now park boundaries from 1851 to 1957. The Empire Mine produced 187 tons of gold using mercury amalgamation and cyanide extraction processes, according to the state.

As part of the project, park staff will close unauthorized trails known to cause erosion problems.

Last summer, during an environmental review phase of the project, a biologist contracted by the park discovered a pair of California spotted owls roosting in the Osborne Hill area.

One proposed trail wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles has been scratched to avoid fragmenting the birds’ habitat, Munson said.

Spotted owls are considered species of special concern by the state and federal government. The owls prefer old growth forest habitat without a lot of disturbance.

Heavily forested with 80- to 100-year-old trees, the park was logged severely during the gold mining era.

“The discovery of owls tells us there’s good, viable habitat in there,” Munson said. “Within the city of Grass Valley, we have good enough habitat to support spotted owls. I think that’s something to celebrate.”

A trail in the eastern boundary of Osborne Hill will include single track difficult terrain, favorable among, but not exclusive to, mountain bicyclists.

Copies of both reports are located at the park’s visitor center at 10791 East Empire St. in Grass Valley, at the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City and at the Grass Valley Royce Branch Library.

Questions can be directed to Perry Myers, project manger of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, at (916) 255-3708.

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