Filling the Holes

Filling in the holes

There has been a lot of press lately on the Rubicon Trail. The fight with those who want it closed along with the work being done by El Dorado County and the volunteers to satisfy the Central Valley Water Authority has been THE story. As with any story, there is another side. In this case, it’s the Tahoe or Placer County ‘side’ of the Rubicon Trail. I jokingly refer to it as the ‘Other’ side.

For me it’s ‘my’ side of the trail. I’ve been enjoying the Lake Tahoe Basin for more than 45 years. It’s only an hour from my home and I’m lucky enough to have access to our family cabin in the Basin that is only 20 minutes from the trailhead.

In 2000, Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR) was formed in response to an effort to close, actually gate, the Tahoe side of the trail during the winter and early spring. FOTR, Placer County, the Forest Service and the Lahontan Water Authority planned and built 28 rolling dips on the Trail within the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) in order to eliminate the need for a gate. But issues on the Tahoe side still require our attention.

A few years ago, Placer County, through an Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) grant funded material for the filling of THE mud hole. With the approval of the TNF, the effort was lead by the Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s with support and manpower from FOTR. The project was very successful and started a movement to fill all the puddles on the Tahoe side.

This past summer, some of those issues were addressed by Placer County. Through a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant, Placer County was able to fund a major effort to continue the maintenance of the Rubicon Trail, this time within the Tahoe National Forest (TNF).

The issue had been standing water on the Trail during the early spring months. Once a puddle appears, it only grows deeper and wider until filled and properly graded. Efforts to drain these puddles early helped but were only a band-aid to the real issue.

Most of you who have traveled the Rubicon will remember THE water hole near Miller Lake. It was a very long water hole, at about 75 yards but it was only two or three feet deep and had a very smooth, solid and sandy base. It never turned in to a muddy mess, it was only water.

Well, when people saw water, they felt a need to drive around it. Unfortunately for them, the route around the water was worse then the actual trail. It was truly a mud bog that damaged the forest.

Forest Service and Placer County officials were brought out to the site and made the determination that the only real solution was to fill in the hole because there was no way to drain it. Remember, this was A 75 yard long hole, along a 10-12 foot wide trail that was holding in 2-3 feet of water. That’s 200+ cubic yards of material. Can you imagine moving that by Jeep trailer, one half yard at a time?

Early in 2010, Placer County had another project going on where they had to remove material from a construction site. After talking with Placer and TNF officials we figured we could use the material on the Rubicon if we could find a place to store the material. This material was better than free. By using this material for the Rubicon, we actually saved Placer County the money they were paying to dispose of the material. It was a true win-win situation.

It took some convincing but the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit allowed Placer County to store the fill material at the Rubicon staging area. It is estimated that 1200-1500 cubic yards of material was staged for use on the trail. My apologies to anyone who might not have been able to find parking during that time but it was our only option.

Placer County contracted with a local contractor to move the material from the staging area to the holes along the trail. The grant was written for the Tahoe National Forest, so those holes were targeted, including THE water hole.

The contractor brought in two HUGE Volvo dump trucks from Reno. One was a 25 yard truck and the other was a 30 yard truck. A front loader was used to fill the trucks at the staging area and a bulldozer was used at the dump sites to spread and compact the fill material on the trail.

Let me tell you, it’s quite a site to see a dump truck coming down the trail that is so big there is no chance of sharing the trail and getting around it. The lug nut rule applies here: the rig with the most lug nuts has the right of way. You find reverse really quick and get out of the way.

After a week and a half of dusty trails, the fill material was in place. Unfortunately, the material only filled holes from the border of the TNF and the LTBMU to the Miller Lake turn out and boat launch. This did include THE water hole.

When I was on had to direct them, the operators created rolling dips where seasonal run-off crosses the trail. Before winter set in, a small group of FOTR volunteers went out and cleared the approaches and drainages for each crossing, then rock lined the section of trail where the seasonal run-off crossed the trail.

Placer County continues to look for other grants to finish the filling process on the Trail from the Miller Lake turnout to the turn at Barker Pass Road.

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