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Rubicon Trail gets rocky reception from water board on clean-up issues

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The legendary Rubicon Trail is being told to clean up but not close up at this time. The Central California Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered El Dorado County and the U.S. Forest Service on Thursday to work together to manage sediment, human waste and oil leak issues along the 20-mile trail. But the order stopped short of ordering a closure. Instead, the two local government agencies are required to develop a plan for runoff during the rainy season that could include closing the trail to Jeeps and other motorized vehicles. The water board was acting on complaints about sediment runoff and the amount of human waste and automotive fluids that are left on the trail and could flow into many of the 32 water courses the Rubicon crosses. A 2001 study estimated that 8,000 gallons of human waste is deposited along the trail each year. The threat of trail closure rallied what Assemblyman Ted Gaines’ office estimated to be 300 supporters for keeping the Rubicon open to the water board meeting Thursday in Rancho Cordova. The Auburn Jeep Club has been trekking along the Rubicon Trail since 1951 and members want to keep it open. But there is also frustration with the use of the trail by unlicensed off-road vehicles without state “green sticker” status. Ron Chiratti, a member of the Auburn club since 1963 and a past president, said the idea of making the Rubicon legal for just licensed Jeeps has its merits. “We’re not against it because we’re not the ones tearing things up,” Chiratti said. Robert Achilles, a Jeep Club member since 1971, agreed that the so-called “rock buggies” would be better left off the trail. Gaines, R-Roseville, spoke before the meeting to supporters who want to keep the trail open. He also addressed the board, urging the panel to ensure the Rubicon doesn’t close. “The support at Thursday’s meeting was overwhelming and demonstrates the impact a closure of this trail could have on a community,” Gaines said. “Any sort of closure would devastate rural economies throughout Placer and El Dorado counties, causing an irreversible job loss not only in the off-roading industry but for the restaurants, hotels and gas stations thousands of outdoor enthusiasts flock to each year.” Gaines said he’s certain there are ways to address problems on the trail without a closure. The assemblyman was joined by Mark A. Smith, a member of the Off-Road Hall of Fame and founder of the annual Jeep Jamboree USA event on the trail. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.