Auburn-Cool trail is open Sundays only

By: Gus ThomsonJournal Staff Writer
-A +A
For Auburn-area residents curious about progress on the $17 million first stage of the American River streambed restoration and pump station project, a trail open Sundays-only through the work site can be a learning experience. But the state Parks Department is stressing that while people can enjoy the canyon experience firsthand, it?s not an open classroom. Jill Dampier, Auburn State Recreation Area superintendent, said project contractor Manning Construction has helped prepare a through-route for the temporary trail but still has serious concerns about bringing people through a construction zone. ?We can lose this privilege if people don?t respect their desire not to have people go down to the construction site except on Sundays,? Dampier said. Auburn?s Neil Perez walked through the well-marked orange ?cone zone? on the canyon floor Sunday as part of a hike organized by the Auburn State Recreation Area Canyon Keepers. The group encountered cyclists and horse riders as well as other hikers. The idle earthmovers, big shovels and other heavy equipment were mute evidence of work to move 750,000 cubic yards of earth and rock. Both stages of the project, anticipated to cost close to $30 million, are scheduled to be finished by summer 2005. ?This is gorgeous,? Perez said, as he surveyed a portion of canyon floor already dug out that will become part of the ?daylighted? river channel. Since the early 1970s, a stretch of American River nearly two-thirds of a mile long has been diverted through a tunnel. That?s kept river rafters and other boaters off the river west of the confluence because of safety concerns. Plans call for the re-routed American River to include gentle, man-made rapids. ?I?d love to come in with a rubber raft and float down to Folsom Lake,? Perez said. ?And now that I?ve seen what it?s like here, I?m going to start walking more.? About 30 people took the opportunity to join Dampier and Canyon Keepers on a 7-mile hike from Cool down to the canyon floor and through the construction site to a road leading back to Auburn. Auburn?s Marvin Cornett, an Auburn-area resident since the late 1970s, said the hike was his first time into the canyon at the old Auburn dam site. He was particularly impressed with the still-evident, massive excavation work at the dam site. The dam project started in the 1970s but was shut down because of earthquake and federal funding concerns by the early 1980s. ?I didn?t know exactly where to take the trail in so this was the opportunity I was waiting for,? Cornett said. ?This is awesome. And it?s really something to see where all that money went.? The group encountered several horse riders, many dropping down from Cool into the canyon at the dam site before traveling up to Auburn and then returning to Cool via a different route over the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge ? a total distance of about 16 miles. Rancho Cordova?s Lea Landry said riders are grateful that the route through the dam site has remained available. Before the three-hour hike, Dampier explained the state Parks Department?s role at the long-delayed dam site. The department has been under contract since 1977 to manage the site, with funding provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. That includes ensuring the area of the canyon now under construction stays safe ? and available to hike or ride through on Sundays. Special weekend events like the American River 50-mile endurance run will also be allowed to continue. ?We?ll keep Sundays open for use if everyone follows the rules,? Dampier said. ?Manning Construction has a huge investment and can incur a large liability if people don?t respect their requirements.? The construction site is well-marked, as is the trail through the site, Dampier said. The route to the American River?s Oregon Bar, south of the construction site, also continues to be open. The Journal?s Gus Thomson can be reached at