State orders Rubicon Trail cleanup
April 25, 2009
EL DORADO COUNTY The Rubicon Trail is a mess, and El Dorado County and the Eldorado National Forest have to do something about it starting this summer, according to a decision by state water quality managers this week.The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board unanimously approved a cleanup and abatement order for the trail during a meeting in Rancho Cordova on Thursday night.The Rubicon Trail is an internationally known four-wheel-drive trail that connects Georgetown to the west shore of Lake Tahoe.Water board staff have identified numerous problems with the state of the trail, including severe erosion affecting nearby waterways, petroleum products polluting soil and human fecal matter contaminating parts of the trail.In July 2004, the amount of human waste around Spider Lake was determined to pose a threat to human health and safety, and the area around the lake was closed to camping.The water boards order acknowledges efforts by off-highway vehicle groups to maintain the trail and correct the problems, but indicates the work has not been enough to keep large segments of the trail from eroding and pushing excess sediment into area waterways.Thursdays decision was lauded by conservation groups.Its about time (off highway vehicle) recreation is held to the same water-quality standards as other uses on our public lands, said Monte Hendricks, a fly-fisherman who sits on the Rubicon Oversight Committee, in a statement from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Theyve gotten a free pass for polluting for far too long.Although the Forest Service and county may consider closing the trail when it is saturated with water and most susceptible to erosion, the order does not mandate a seasonal closure of the trail, something four-wheel drive enthusiasts had feared leading up to Thursdays meeting.Temporarily closing the trail is absolutely the wrong way to approach this, said Off-Road Hall of Famer Mark Smith in a statement from Assemblyman Ted Gaines. There are solutions to the actual problem that we can look at, rather than just slapping on the idea of a closure that will do nothing to address the potential impacts the board is looking into its crystal ball to foresee.Although the trail runs mostly through Forest Service land, it is designated a county road, which has led to disagreement regarding which agency is primarily responsible for managing it.Both El Dorado County and the Forest Service have tried to limit their responsibility regarding the trail, but the water boards order finds both are responsible for maintenance and management of the Rubicon.Under the boards order, the county is required to install several erosion control measures along a 2,000-foot section of trail, encourage trail users to pack out their waste and take steps to ensure the construction of two bridges along the trail begins in summer 2010.The county and the Forest Service must also prepare a plan to address maintenance of the trail by July 15 and a plan to address impacts to the trail when soils are saturated by July 1, 2010, according to the order.The decision also requires a long-term management plan for the trail be completed by April 30, 2011.