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Ambitious Trail Project Would Open Up Public Lands

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One of the most ambitious recreation trail projects in Redding history is moving forward between Placer Road and the southeastern corner of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

The Bureau of Land Management is planning a trail system of about 20.2 miles that would connect to existing trails at the BLM’s Swasey Recreation Area and to Whiskeytown. Two trailheads are planned along Muletown Road, and there would be an access point on Placer Road, about 1.4 miles southwest of Texas Springs Road.

The Mule Ridge Trail Project would open up hundreds of acres of BLM territory and a section of Whiskeytown that currently has little access other than heavily rutted Muletown Road and rough horse trails that cross private property. The route has been marked on the ground, and inmate crews provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) have been clearing the route and burning brush piles for several months.

“This trail addition will be the biggest thing to hit Redding, ever,” said Bob Boecking, president of Redding Mountain Biking club. “With the growing popularity of mountain biking, the addition of new trails is always welcome, but this particular trail’s location, design, terrain and scenery will make it the most popular trail in the north state. People will plan vacations to come to Redding to ride trails such as this one.”

Brian Sindt, a program officer with the McConnell Foundation who has helped lay out the routes, added, “People are going to be blown away because the area feels backcountry-ish, and there are really, really good views.”

But not everyone is thrilled. Some Muletown Road residents said they think the trails could invite trouble.

“My main concern is the increased fire danger, as well as the proximity to our home,” said resident Linda Wooden. “We live way out in the country for a reason and have not enjoyed having inmate crews working behind our house, and do not look forward to having traffic on a trail close to our home. We have a deck with a view of nature and wouldn’t want that view to include hikers.”

Wooden noted that, because there is no cell phone service in the rugged area, she and her husband have had to rescue Muletown Road motorists who run out of gas or drive off the road.

Local residents and horse riders Kathy Agner and Cindy VanSchooten said they are worried the trails will bring more hunters to the area, which could cause conflicts.

“As far as riding goes, we can ride on the established trails now and not come across anyone but a hunter now and then,” Agner said. “How many bikers are we going to have to deal with that are flying down the trail and spook our horse?”

VanSchooten did credit trail designers for relocating a trail that was getting too close to houses, although she said it was too early to tell exactly how the route would work.

Bill Kuntz, supervisor of operations/maintenance and recreation planning for the BLM’s Redding office, said his agency is sensitive to local residents’ concerns and will work with the residents to prevent problems. He said trail designers have tried to avoid creating conflicts.

“It will always be difficult to have a trail far enough away from neighbors to alleviate their concerns. In most cases, the neighbors will pioneer trails from their homes to the trail for access,” Kuntz said. “BLM has contacted homeowners adjacent to proposed trailheads and has asked for their input. In general, they are satisfied with BLM’s response to their concerns.”

Problems such as illegal target shooting and squatters’ camps tend to diminish with increased recreational use of an area, Kuntz added. That has certainly been the case at Swasey, which has become extremely popular with mountain bikers, equestrians, hikers and trail runners since BLM expanded the trail system a few years ago.

Early trail clearing work

Kuntz said the trails should decrease fire danger because the trail construction project also serves as a fuel reduction project. In the future, the trail “will be an ideal fire break,” he said, and land managers could use the trails as boundaries for prescribed burns that further reduce fuel loads.

The BLM has relied on Cal Fire’s inmate crews because they provide manual labor for “pennies on the dollar,” according to Kuntz, who said he knows of no problems caused by crews around here.

“We don’t even have a budget for this project. We’re just making it happen,” Kuntz said.

The mountain biking club’s Boecking pointed out that the entire project would be built on public land.

“This project is uniting different user groups – bikers, hikers, runners, equestrians – different land agencies – BLM, National Park Service – and benefiting our local area’s economy. I personally do not see a valid negative point that can be made,” Boecking said.

An “environmental assessment” of the project was released by the BLM on March 25. It is available at the BLM office, 355 Hemsted Drive, in Redding. The document discusses the area’s cultural history and environmental setting, and essentially provides formal approval for the project. Public comments on the environmental assessment are due by the end of the day on Friday, April 8.

Kuntz said the BLM will continue to accept input after that deadline. “If someone comes up with a good idea or has an issue we overlooked, they can contact us anytime,” he said.

In the meantime, BLM intends to press forward. Inmate crews continue to clear the trail and burn brush almost daily. If the weather cooperates, some preliminary trail construction could begin late this spring and center on things such as three planned bridges.

Full-on trail building likely will not begin until after rain falls next autumn, according to Sindt, who has been working on the project for about a year. It’s not a good idea to scrape fresh trail in Redding’s dry summertime heat, because the soil turns to powder and then later erodes. If rainfall is moderate next autumn and winter, it is conceivable the entire 20 miles could get built in a six- to seven-month push, and the trails would open to public use about a year from now, he said.

Weather trends this past winter were ideal, Sindt explained. During the January and early February dry spell, crews were able to mark trail and clear brush. When rain and cold temperatures returned in mid-February, crews were able to start burning the brush. Other trail construction projects have had to postpone burning debris for years until conditions were right.

“This will be much more park-like immediately,” said Sindt, who marveled at the area’s huge oak and Ponderosa pine trees. “There will be no downed trees or branches along the trail. It won’t look like a recently constructed trail.”

The trail that would run roughly parallel to Muletown Road and into Whiskeytown mostly follows the Princess water ditch, which in places is more than six feet deep. That eventual trail will have a very minimal slope and should be an easy place to ride a bike. Other trails in the planned system will be much steeper and quite rocky in places. And an old mining road that slices across the middle of the project has a severe slope.

Whiskeytown Superintendent Jim Milestone said old irrigation ditches make for great trails, but the ditches tend to be overgrown because they hold water. Clearing the ditches requires a great deal of work, and Whiskeytown will be lending crews to the effort when it reaches National Park Services territory.

“This part of the park is really inaccessible to hiking because of the dense vegetation,” Milestone added.

Milestone credits BLM’s Redding office for “the renaissance of trail building in West Redding. We’ve gone through this explosion of trail building that has really opened up Whiskeytown.” He added, “The work that the local BLM has done is pretty unprecedented for BLM in the country.”

Officials at BLM credit the McConnell Foundation and the Shasta Regional Community Foundation for providing personnel and other resources for trail construction.

If completed as proposed, the Mule Ridge Trail Project would get the Swasey and Whiskeytown trail systems enticingly close to the Clear Creek Greenway trail system along Cloverdale and Clear Creek roads. Some private properties and the deep Clear Creek canyon are in the way, but Kuntz is confident BLM will connect everything eventually.

Questions and comments about the Mule Ridge Trail Project should be directed to the BLM office at (530) 224-2100.

Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and co-author of Guide to California Planning, a reference book and college text. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

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