Breaking trail at Donner |

Breaking trail at Donner

David Bunker

Ryan Salm / Tribune News Service / Rich Cummings of California Conservation Corps gives a smile after being covered in mud from trail work.

TRUCKEE – For many residents here, summer is the time to grab a backpack, sleeping bag, and stove and hit the trails.

But this summer, like the last 10, groups of volunteers will head to the growing Donner Rim Trail shouldering shovels, picks and rakes.

It’s part of the community effort that has etched out the Donner Rim Trail from the Tahoe Donner subdivision to Summit Lake. Eventually, as soon as five years from now, the vision of a trail looping around Donner Lake will be complete, trail organizers say.

Like the Tahoe Rim Trail completed three years ago, the Donner Trail is a big job. Envisioned to be 23 miles when it is complete, the path will cross ridges, wrap around lakes and navigate granite knobs.

Along the way, the completed trail will showcase Donner Lake, Truckee’s largest body of water. But it will also display some of the Truckee Donner Land Trust’s largest conservation achievements – the protection of Schallenberger Ridge and Negro Canyon.

“The thing about the trail is it does cost a lot but it is a great way to access the land we are protecting,” said Susan Sheffield, trail coordinator for the Truckee Donner Land Trust. “You can protect all this land but if people can’t use it …”

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Sheffield is the sole paid staffer for the trail’s construction, a seasonal position with the lands trust. She plots routes, gets permits and organizes work parties. The rest, except for the occasional bridge or boardwalk being put on the trail, is completed by volunteers.

“The trail is, I would say, well over 90 percent volunteer effort,” said Ralph Hunt, a frequent volunteer and a member of the advisory board of the Truckee Donner Land Trust.

This summer, 15 to 20 volunteer days are expected to expand the trail west of Summit Lake, as well as help maintain the completed section of trail.

Unlike its enormous twin brother a mountain away, the Donner Rim Trail is being built to a scale that allows recreationists – especially cyclists – the opportunity to complete the trail in one day.

But much like the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, the Donner trail will be a multi-use trail, built for mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers.

This year’s work on the trail started late because of a heavy snow season. And much of Sheffield’s time has been wrapped up in applying for Forest Service permission to build the track through public land west of Summit Lake.

These delays are setting up the trail building season for a busy fall, she said.

Sheffield’s long-term goal is to get the trail around Mount Judah to Schallenberger Ridge – a section that will follow the Pacific Crest Trail for hikers, but offer an alternative for mountain bikes, which are not allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail, to complete the loop.

From Schallenberger Ridge, the wooded slope to the south of Donner Lake, the trail will be constructed by the California State Parks, which took ownership of the ridge after the Truckee Donner Land Trust negotiated a purchase of the property from an Oregon-based timber company.

One piece of a system

While trail organizers know that the Donner Rim Trail will be an attraction all its own, they also are expecting it to be a portion of a townwide trail system that will allow people to hike or bike around the area without jumping in their cars.

“I would like to see it that you can hop on a trail in your neighborhood and hook into the whole system,” said Sheffield.

That goal is outlined in Truckee’s Trails and Bikeways Master Plan, which includes the Donner Rim Trail as well as trails connecting Truckee neighborhoods with one another.

“It will be great to see Truckee have a whole trail system,” said Sheffield.

When the rim trail is completed, a Tahoe Donner resident could get on the trail in his neighborhood and end up on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Hole in the Ground trail, she said.

Volunteering on the trail

Since the rim trail is going up as fast as the land trust can get volunteers out to build it, Sheffield is always looking for people who want to help build a section of trail.

Whether it is swinging a pick, or lending a hand with much lighter brush clearing, there is always a need for trail builders.

“We don’t ever really turn away volunteers,” said Sheffield. “We try to accommodate everyone.”

Sheffield said volunteers from as far away as Florida have built part of the rim trail.

“We might go out in the morning and see a brushy hillside, and when we leave, there will be a section of trail,” Sheffield said. “It is really rewarding.”