Unsanitary conditions close camping area on Rubicon trail
El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declared a state of local emergency, closing an area off the Rubicon trail to the public because of an accumulation of human feces.
The area includes a couple of hundred acres around the Spider Lake-Little Sluice area, the most popular place to camp along the 14-mile trail.
The order calls for the area to be closed for 120 days so it can be cleaned up to the point that it no longer presents a threat to public health and safety and the environment, said Jon Morgan, director of the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management.
The order takes effect immediately and is to be enforced by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Forest Service. It does not shut down any portion of the Rubicon trail.
“We had a number of reports from the public about the increasing unsanitary condition and we confirmed it over the weekend,” said Jon Morgan, director of the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management. “There is human feces and urine everywhere up there. Hopefully this sends a message and reduces the impact of people on nature up there.”
The trail boss for the Friends of the Rubicon, which represents more than 400 off-road clubs from around the world, adamantly opposed the closure.
“The government agencies involved have had three years of management opportunities on this trail and yet have not completed those,” said Del Albright, trail boss for the Friends of the Rubicon and member of the county’s Rubicon Oversight Committee. “This closure is too radical and too premature.”
The Rubicon trail, a county road, runs west to east around the northeast corner of Desolation Wilderness. It starts in the Eldorado National Forest at Wentworth Springs near Loon Lake and ends at Lake Tahoe at Homewood.
On a busy weekend there can be 1,000 people camped within a half-mile of Spider Lake, with at least a couple of hundred camped around the lake, Albright said.
Part of the land that surrounds Spider Lake is privately owned. The rest is land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The landscape is granite, making it difficult if not impossible to dig a hole and bury human waste. The terrain is too treacherous to accommodate any restroom facilities.
“This (closure) is the result of irresponsible parties,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of responsible Jeepers who pack it in and pack it out.”
In 2002, the county bought $10,000 worth of portable toilets and gave them to people who use the Rubicon trail, according to Albright. The county also established the Rubicon Oversight Committee in 2001 to work on a master plan for the trail.
“There’s been no follow up by the county, the Forest Service or the Rubicon Oversight Committee,” Albright said. “I believe before closing it the Forest Service should have taken the bull by the horns and developed some campsites.”
Albright said closure of the area will cause four-wheelers to camp at Buck Island Lake, just down the road from Spider Lake.
“They are going to find other places; the same number of people are going to go,” Albright said. “If these people move to the next lake, are they going to close that too?”
Lester Lubetkin, a Forest Service recreation officer, said people need to bring portable toilets when they travel the Rubicon.
“What they really need to be doing is packing out their waste,” Lubetkin said. “Otherwise there are just so many people and they’ll go to another spot and end up with the same problem in a new spot.”
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org