Clarifying Nevada County’s Plans for Hirschdale

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By Trisha Tillotson

In reading a follow up opinion essay from Larry Andresen, titled Fish and Wildlife Property Provides Idyllic Solution for Public Access, Recreational Use of Truckee River in Hirschdale Area and published on May 12, I’d like to provide the following clarifications:

1. While Nevada County currently does not operate or manage recreational programs/facilities, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors has recognized the need for more involvement due to increased recreational needs and uses throughout Nevada County. Hirschdale is one area that has also seen its fair share of increased recreational use in recent years. As such, the Hirschdale Stakeholder Working Group was convened consisting of volunteer property owners immediately adjacent to Hirschdale Road as well as fly fishing, rafting, and trail representatives who frequent the area. This group was convened in late 2021/early 2022 to brainstorm short-term and long-term recreational recommendations for consideration in the Hirschdale area and to inform a more comprehensive community process. In February 2022, the board of supervisors adopted recreation as a board objective and identified the need to develop a Recreation and Resiliency Master Plan. The development of the plan, which is anticipated to start this fall, will include numerous opportunities for stakeholder input and will clarify Nevada County’s role in recreation. This clarification is especially needed because outdoor recreation in the county often involves numerous public land types including federal, state, county, city, town, and others (i.e. park districts, Nevada Irrigation District, etc.), and facilitation of joint solutions has been challenging.  

2. As part of the necessary replacement of the aging Hirschdale Road bridge over the Truckee River, access to the river must be considered per California Streets and Highway Code Section 991, which states, “Before any bridge on a county highway is constructed over any navigable river, the board of supervisors, after a study and public hearing on the question, shall determine and shall prepare a report on the feasibility of providing public access to the river for recreational purposes and a determination as to whether such public access shall be provided.” Although the Truckee River is not considered navigable by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, recreationalists and residents have stated in recent meetings that rafters and fishing enthusiasts do navigate the waterway and currently access the Truckee River at the bridge. As such and as required, the county is preparing an analysis of providing public access at the Hirschdale Road bridge over the Truckee River, and while the bridge reconstruction is tentatively slated for summer 2023, it is important to ensure that the environmental review and design follow all state and federal requirements.  

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3. The future of recreation in the Hirschdale area is important and the California Fish and Wildlife property at 11308 Iceland Rd. should be considered for any future recreational use. However, there are currently challenges with accessing the property. In addition, the neighborhood as well as recreationalists need to have an opportunity to be involved in the planning of any improvements in the area and issues such as traffic, trash, sanitation, and parking need to be evaluated. Meanwhile, recreational needs must be prioritized throughout Nevada County, partnerships and future maintenance responsibilities determined, and resources identified and allocated for the necessary environmental review, design, and construction of any improvements. The preparation of a Recreation and Resiliency Master Plan, as mentioned above, is the first step toward identifying long-term solutions and starting this process. Public input opportunities will be advertised soon, and your participation is encouraged and welcomed.

4. Nevada County currently maintains 563 miles of public roads with gas tax funds, of which the purchasing power continues to decline. As such, the county must protect the limited road maintenance funds from being over-extended and therefore rarely adds roads to the County-Maintained Mileage List. In fact, the county’s public/private road policy requires the maintenance of most new roads to be funded by an assessment paid for by the benefactors. For example, a new housing or commercial subdivision in the county would be conditioned to form a permanent road division (PRD), which would apply assessments on the tax roll to collect funds for road maintenance rather than use public funds to maintain a road that is only used by those benefitting from the road. As such, while some neighborhoods would like the county to take over maintenance of their roads, there is no funding available to do that without the formation of a PRD and the roadway meeting minimum county standards. Also, it should be noted that the addition of a road to the county-maintained mileage system can be very costly, especially in higher elevations where snow removal is required. Any roads added should serve the greater public good, of which many low traffic volume roads do not, especially if they do not serve as a thoroughfare.

5. Public access is allowed on all public roads (residential or other, maintained or not) and on the Truckee River. While California law can be complicated, the California State Lands Commission website includes a link to a legal guide to the public’s rights to access and use California’s navigable waters. The following excerpt summarizes basic access rights:

“California’s enacted laws and judicial decisions establish public rights to access and use the state’s navigable waters. Under these laws, the public is entitled to access and enjoy all state waters ‘capable of being navigated by oar or motor-propelled small craft.’ Owners of lands underlying or adjacent to navigable waters are prohibited from interfering with the public’s right to use such waters.” 

While the Community Development Agency of Nevada County prepares to issue a request for proposals for a Recreation and Resiliency Master Plan, we invite interested residents and stakeholders to sign up for notifications and updates, including public comment opportunities for the master plan, to stay up to date on recreational issues in Nevada County at nevadacountyca.gov/3476/recreation.  

~ Trisha Tillotson is the community development agency director for Nevada County (and current interim public works director). The CDA consists of the following five departments: agriculture, building (including the code/cannabis compliance division), environmental health, planning and public works (including engineering, fleet, roads, solid waste, transit, and wastewater).

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