Midway between the deep blue waters of Lake Tahoe and the sheer granite walls of Yosemite Valley, a trail that highlights the treasures of the central Sierra Nevada range has begun to take shape. When fully completed it will traverse portions of the Stanislaus National Forest in a thirty-five-to-forty-mile loop around the greater Arnold area, lending it the name Arnold Rim Trail.
Already the trail has begun its meander into creek canyons lined by old-growth trees. It rises to ridges with rocky outcrops, offering vistas of California’s Mother Lode foothill region, the great Central Valley and two Sierra crest wilderness areas. The trail will eventually skirt White Pines Lake in the town of White Pines and access the first groves of giant sequoias discovered in the state, now part of Calaveras Big Trees State Park. It will include connecting trails to towns and neighborhoods, even passing by the one-ofa-kind Sierra Nevada Logging Museum.
To date, ten miles of the proposed trail have been completed. But for thousands of full-time local residents—and tens of thousands of part-time residents and visitors—the trail is already a triumph of collaboration, environmental restoration and connectivity.
The Arnold Rim Trail was conceived early in the decade by fourth generation resident Warren Alford, who grew up in Angels Camp, a town fledged in the earliest days of the Gold Rush and now serving as one gateway to Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, a route that bisects the full circle the trail will travel.
In 2006, several local recreation enthusiasts joined Alford in his efforts to promote the vision of the rim trail. They formed the volunteer Arnold Rim Trail Association to assist communities in building and improving local trail systems.
“I think our trail projects have already shown how much people enjoy this area and want to give something back,” says Lonnie Allison, a long-time resident and recreation trails coordinator for the Calaveras Ranger District. “I’d love to spend all my time on this project and can’t. [The trail association] and these volunteers make all the difference in getting these trails in place.”
The volunteer effort is in tune with the times. Keynoting at a state parks conference this year, the National Park Service’s national trails system director Steve Elkinton said local and regional efforts to create trail systems connecting communities with open space is one of the fastest growing movements in our nation.
At a recent event celebrating the completion of the first segment of the trail after two and a half years, the trail association and Calaveras Ranger District partners recounted some very big rocks in the path to getting the project underway.
Years before the Arnold Rim Trail was conceived, an 8,000-acre area known as the urban interface forest had become a zone of contention between homeowners, recreationists and a growing contingent of off-road motorized vehicle enthusiasts, some of whom had created a spider web of trails running willy-nilly over the varied terrain. Clashes between motorized users and homeowners were increasing. Human impact was taking a toll on the land, particularly in sensitive riparian areas.
After the U.S. Forest Service issued environmental impact statement alternatives that were rejected by nearly everyone, the agency ended up supporting a separation of motorized and non-motorized travel—a landmark community agreement. The final decision called for providing high-quality motorized trails in areas furthest from residential neighborhoods and developing trails for non-motorized use in the portion nearest homes. The Arnold Rim Trail became a galvanizing concept for non-motorized trail development and in 2004 was officially documented in an agency record of decision.
In the past two years the trail association has gathered input from local residents and homeowners about their concerns. It has sponsored monthly trail days during which community members participate in building the trail. Steering group members have worked side by side with local political leaders, young people and retirees all helping realize the dream—one mile at a time.
As a public lands advocate and community organizer, I have a vested interest in seeing this dream grow. In my time on the trail, I’ve reflected on how special this area is. I’ve watched a doe deep in the cover of Pacific dogwood emerge with a spotted fawn. I’ve seen the red feathers of woodpeckers glinting in the sunlight as they mark territory on ponderosa and sugar pine, white fir or incense cedar. I’ve stood, transfixed, at the top of San Antonio Falls, mentally grappling with how these sheer walls of stone rising hundreds of feet came to cradle the white horsetail cascading down a hundred feet or more. When I stand at a place called Top of the World, I can fully comprehend why someone gave it that name. Scanning the horizon, I see Mount Diablo to the west, beyond the great Central Valley, and the high country of the Carson-Iceberg and Emigrant Wildernesses, their snowy peaks trailing away to the Yosemite borderland.
Future prospects for the trail look bright. The Arnold Rim Trail is a recipient of $800,000 in American Relief and Recovery Act funds as a result of having “shovel ready” projects clearly outlined. These include San Domingo Creek Canyon west of the first ten miles of trail and a mile of wheelchair-accessible trail. California Conservation Corps members, private contractors and local volunteers all will have a hand in building this next section of the Arnold Rim Trail.
The ancient giant sequoia groves of Calaveras Big Trees State Park were visited long before Yosemite gained national prominence, and the park is home to the very tree that inspired John Muir to take some of his first steps in protecting wild nature. These trees, too, will be part of the tremendous collection of natural and human historical gems in the treasure chest of the Arnold Rim Trail.
Article by Randy Crutcher
This article appeared in OutThere Magazine