Collecting to creating: Auburn man uses tons of American River rock for sculptures

Dave Imgrund takes advantage of rules in Auburn State Recreation Area allowing up to 15 pounds of rock removal daily for non-commercial purposes
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Fifteen years ago, Auburn’s Dave Imgrund picked up the first of his many rocks as he scrambled along the American River shoreline. Each time he returned to the river near the confluence in the canyon below Auburn he picked up more – many more. There was just something about the shape and the smoothness that came with being tumbled by the churning mountain streams over time that fascinated the transplanted Midwesterner. But he also made a point of checking to find out how many rocks he was allowed to remove and from where. “I found out from a ranger that 14 pounds is the maximum you’re allowed to take at any one time,” Imgrund said. “It’s against the law to bring them out by the truckloads. I’m legal.” Over the ensuing decade-and-a-half, Imgrund’s walks would yield what he estimates are thousands of beautiful stones. He’s worn out two backpacks in his forays onto the shore and weighed-down return trips to the parking area above the river. “My wife and I both like to walk and the rocks – rounded and polished into a variety of shapes – fascinated me,” Imgrund said. “All my life, living on the East Coast and Chicago, where they don’t have mountains, I didn’t live near rivers that drop thousands of feet, tumbling stones many miles over time.” Fast forward to this past spring and Imgrund, now 75, had plopped his thousands of river rocks down in his yard. With his wife, ceramicist Gerda Francesca, providing a combination of inspiration and prodding, Imgrund had a light bulb moment. He took chicken wire, fashioned the wire into cylinder shapes and – by the time he was done artfully placing the stones inside – had created what he proudly dubs “Auburn’s Stonehenge.” Imgrun, a non-smoker whose other collection of note is of less-weighty matchbook covers, said he’s probably worked with a couple of tons of rocks to come up with his columns. So far, the people who have seen the columns have been complimentary and no-one has complained about his use of transplanted Auburn State Recreation Area river rock. “I haven’t run into anyone,” Imgrund said. “I would say (to anyone who has objections), ‘Come take a look and see what you think.’ The rocks aren’t cemented so, theoretically, they can be put back where they came from, but that would be silly.” Superintendent Mike Lynch, of the Auburn State Recreation Area, said that Imgrund is within his rights to bring out the rocks he has. Rock removal is covered under state regulations for rockhounding at parks units. And the limit – at 15 pounds – is a pound more than the threshold Imgrund was working under, he said. People are allowed to take one big rock weighing 15 pounds or less or several rocks that weigh – in aggregate – under the limit. The 15-pound rule applies daily. Lynch said the rock-removal rules cover state recreation areas and not state parks, such as James Marshall Gold Discovery Park in Coloma. And rock recovery is limited to the surface of beaches and gravel bars that are subject to annual flooding. In other words, people can’t pull rocks out of the ground to take them away. The rocks that are taken away can also not be used commercially or sold, Lynch said. Rockhound guides advise hobbyists to check with property owners, be they public or private. Farther upstream along the Middle Fork American River, for instance, when it becomes part of the Tahoe National Forest, rock collecting is taboo. District Ranger Chris Fischer, of the American River District, said regulations don’t allow rock collecting but other districts do have areas set aside. The Yuba River District, for instance, has a couple of spots that are open to rock collectors. “But on the American River District, it’s not legal to even collect one rock,” Fischer said. That’s because providing an area available for rockhounds would require an extensive environmental study that the Forest Service isn’t prepared to fund, he said. Fischer said that in the two years he has been the Foresthill area’s American River District chief, he has never seen anyone cited for rock removal. “It’s more about education than issuing citations,” Fischer said. On the river preservation front, Senior Policy Advocate Ron Stork of Sacramento-based Friends of the River said environmentalists have huge philosophical questions when discussing moving larger boulders to increase safety for river rafters. “But I’m not aware of any major discussions about the relatively small number of people taking rocks out of riverbeds and making art out of them,” Stork said. Nevertheless, Stork admits he can get a little edgy when he sees people picking up rocks and skipping them on the water. And when he’s on the shoreline, he’s careful enough as he walks to stay on rocks and avoid the sand – on the chance that he would be stepping on growing plants. “Things are constantly being arranged by nature,” Stork said. “And in the cosmic scheme of things, acts like that are relatively small.” But stones are not a renewable resource and if enough people are removing choice rocks off public lands, it would definitely impact the experience, he said. “I don’t want it to happen in ways that negatively alter the landscape,” Stork said. Now that Imgrund has completed his “Stonehenge” of nine rock columns, he’s not contemplating any more art projects in the immediate future. “It’s a labor of love and I’m proud of it,” he said. Imgrund, who initially retired from a job in marketing with DuPont and then later had a second career as a financial consultant, continues to enjoy working – now delivering medications to nursing homes with Pacific West Pharmacy of Rocklin. “I’ve stopped collecting rocks – or at least slowed down,” Imgrund said. “If I saw another one I like, I’d probably put it in my pocket, though.”