River access threatened: Truckee River enthusiasts worried about land purchase
For some time there has been confusion circulating in the Hirschdale community.
The question was — what parts of the Truckee River near the Hirschdale Bridge are available for public use?
Over the past year, various “keep out” signs have appeared near the Hirschdale Bridge, causing concerns for river users. Those concerns led to a community meeting last week.
A packet distributed at the meeting included some answers to frequently asked questions. For example, it is legal to park on an unmaintained Nevada County road for up to 72 hours where it is safe and does not cause traffic issues. However, Nevada County does not have any jurisdiction over private property and cannot prevent property owners from blocking access.
To highlight this issue, officials pointed to a parcel of land bought in 2019 from Sierra Pacific Power Company by Randolph Mezger. This land is located nearby the Hirschdale stretch of the Truckee River, and extends roughly a half mile to Tahoe National Forest.
Some of the first audience members to speak at the meeting were with the Truckee River Alliance — a group of conservationists, fly fishers, and whitewater rafters formed to come up with solutions to the access problem in the Hirschdale area.
“Not cool. Who does this?” said Erik Johnson, a rafter in the area. “This particular stretch of river is sacred to many of us and has been lost recently. We’ve accessed it for generations. He knew this when he bought the land.”
Many Truckee locals attending the meeting were concerned that they would no longer be able to exit the river via the Hirschdale Bridge. The way that many people float the river is by parking a car at the exit point by the Hirschdale Bridge and then shuttling back to wherever they began. That now poses a challenge to those who float the river when wanting to park on the road that has been blocked off by the landowner.
According to mother and Truckee local Carina Eady-Toledo, it’s no longer worth it for her and her family to float the river if they cannot exit by the Hirschdale Bridge.
“The problem is that, that is the only take-out point,” Eady-Toledo said. “Otherwise, you have to go down to Floriston, which wouldn’t be bad except that Floriston is covered in rebar. It’s a really dangerous area to be. You could pop a raft and fall out of the boat and gouge your leg open. It’s not exactly pristine rafting.
“I get that the private land owners probably don’t want more people coming down,” she added moments later. “I know there’s a lot of private property down there and disruptions and trash are always an issue. But that’s not a reason to limit access. It’s a reason to put provisions in place and try to find better solutions.”
Paul Miltner, an owner at Tahoe Whitewater Tours, also has concerns about the limited access, which could potentially affect his tours in the event that a rapid evacuation were to occur near the Hirschdale Bridge.
“We start at the little Truckee River, run about seven miles, and we take out at Floriston.” said Miltner, “Bee stings, heart attacks, strokes, these are all things that we’re concerned about.”
Miltner said that if gates block access for their drivers to pick up clients in the event of a medical emergency, it could potentially pose a challenge to his operations.
Dave Steindorf, with America Whitewater, also brought up the question of public involvement regarding access.
“Currently, there’s a project to replace the bridge down in Hirschdale,” Steindorf said. “That project originally was a bridge removal project, but members of the public wanted to see access made. In a document that the county put together for that bridge, it states in a number of places that the Hirschdale Road provides access to the public river, Union Pacific Railroad, Forest Service land, several private properties, and planned to be an important link in the Nevada County portion of the Tahoe Pyramid Trail. How can the public be spending probably what’s going to be $5 (million) to $10 million on this bridge project just to provide the access to only a few property owners?” asked Steindorf.
At the end of the meeting, Community Development Director Trisha Tillotson said the intent of rebuilding the bridge was to provide access to public lands, and that it was a question county staff would examine.
“If public access cannot be provided, that’s something we’re going to need to look at because it’s our tax dollars that are paying for the replacement of the bridge.” said Tillotson.
Michael Upton, manager of track maintenance from Union Pacific Railroad, said he supported the road being blocked due to public safety concerns, which included illegal dumping, injured parties, reckless driving, vehicle accidents, and six vehicles on the track.
The uncle of the landowner, Paul Mezger, proposed an alternative for concerned locals.
“The big solution for the river users is to look at an alternative exit. You’re traveling through private property. The public property on the other side is relatively steep and unusable, so I think we need to look at an alternative exit and maybe it’s further down the river.” said Mezger.
Joining Mezger was another representative of the land owner, David Hagen.
“I’ve been retained to perform a record of survey.” said Hagen. “The public land is landlocked by both railroad and private property. In order to access this Fish and Game property, my suggestion would be use the trail. The trail perpetuates through private property, so people could take the trail from both directions. Vehicular access is going to be tough.”
It’s unknown if another meeting will occur. Attendees were encouraged to sign up for notifications for Tillotson’s master plan by visiting http://www.mynevadacounty.com and searching “notifications,” where they will find a list of notifications which includes the recreational master plan. From there they can sign up to be notified.
“This meeting gave me a lot of ideas about what’s needed,” Tillotson said. “Bathrooms and trash facilities and access to the river — all of those are very important things, so I’m thinking that those will be included in our recreational master plan.”
Elizabeth White is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun, a sister publication of the Tribune.
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