New Auburn river route opens quietly

Maidu Drive entrance provides vehicle access to canyon
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
A new route for motorists to drive down to the American River from Auburn opened to the public Saturday. And Auburn’s Dennis Klauck – one of the first canyon visitors in from the Maidu Drive entrance – was wondering where all the people were. Klauck and his 10-year-old grandson Wade Hill of Roseville drove down to near the water’s edge and scrambled along the rocky shoreline with the swift and cold American River flowing by. With a pan and metal detector, the two searched for gold. There was plenty of fool’s gold, young Wade mentioned. Klauck said his metal detector turned up plenty of old nuts, bolts and metal in what he said could be classified as a man-made gravel bar due to plenty of material left over from Auburn dam construction 30 or so years ago. Klauck added that the shallow areas along the side of the river appeared perfectly set up for trout fishing. And in the summer, with the river current not as strong and the weather warmer, he could envision taking a rafting trip along the newly opened section from the confluence to the Birdsall takeout, about a three-hour cruise downstream. But there was no gold. And there were very few people. “I expected more people,” Klauck said. “There were so many people who said they wanted this, it opens up and there’s hardly anybody here.” By about noon, six cars were parked in the freshly paved, 50-space lot about half a mile up the canyon from the two boating take-out areas on the riverfront. A check at both takeouts and at the confluence found little boating activity happening on the water. Ray Cassell, of Lafayette, arrived with a canoe to scout out the Birdsall takeout and possibly take the craft up to man-made rapids in the channel. But after seeing the trek he would have to take from the upper parking lot to the rapids, decided to raft from the confluence to Rattlesnake Bar, about 3 miles downstream – and pass the new access point by. “What we’re discovering is that it’s not really set up to run it because if you come down with boats, you can’t leave your car here (at the shoreline),” he said. Instead, the car has to be parked at the lot about a half-mile or more climb up the canyon on foot. “Parking a mile up the road isn’t feasible,” Cassell said. “It’s not practical to take out here.” Jay Galloway, Auburn State Recreation Area superintendent said the lack of activity after the opening actually works in the parks department’s favor. The department was finding some areas needed better signs to provide directions to the two takeouts and keep people from parking in a disabled lot above the Birdsall takeout. The two takeouts are meant for short stops to pick up rafters – not parking. The parks department had also issued a warning about water safety on the new run this week, concerned about people trying to boat the American River because of the novelty of the new route without being adequately prepared for swift-flowing and cold water at this time of year. “We’re pleasantly surprised that it’s slow,” Galloway said. That’s also given the ranger staff time to explain to visitors the length of the walk from the takeout back to the parking lot, he said. While boaters weren’t evident, several people paid the $5 to park in the lot and take off on foot alone or with dogs, and explore the area. “People are saying how scenic it is at this time of year,” Galloway said. It was announced this past week that state park rangers will be conducting spot patrols and enforcement of dog regulations on roads and trails with the recreation area. The focused enforcement will occur in areas and on trails where complaints about off-leash dogs have been numerous. The opening comes after restoration of the river channel was completed last fall as part of the $72 million Placer County Water Agency pump station project. Year-round access to the canyon along a road once used as part of the Auburn dam construction project was initially considered but after concerns over traffic and increased fire danger were expressed by nearby Auburn residents, the parks and Bureau of Reclamation plan shifted to a gated road with limited openings. The weekend openings are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Sept. 28. Other days, the road will be gated but still open for use by pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians during regular park hours. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at