Long Rant About Rubicon ClosurePosted: January 31, 2023 Filed under: Access, Travel | Tags: closure, El dorado, Fees, permits, rescue 1 Comment
As of December 30th, 2022, the Rubicon Trail is closed to any type of use within El Dorado County. The closure is for 60 days. It is not clear if the closure can be lifted before the end of February. It is not clear if the closure can be extended past the end of February. We’ll all have to wait and see.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything that happened. I’ve tried to piece the events of this story as best I can.
On December 30th, 2022, El Dorado County closed the Rubicon Trail. It’s not clear who initiated this closure. The official closure appeared on the El Dorado County website on the Parks page. It stated:
“As of December 30, 2022, the Rubicon Trail is closed for public safety in accordance with county procedures and a determination was made with the Department of Transportation, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Parks Division.”
There is debate about whether all of the departments listed were actually all in agreement about the closure.
One theory is that the closure stemmed from a group of vehicles getting stuck along Wentworth Springs Road (not yet on the Rubicon Trail), bringing in a front loader for a vehicle recovery (but not using it). For the sake of the county not wanting to rescue unprepared drivers throughout the coming storm, the county closed the trail.
But Parks can’t just close a road for safety, so the story shifted after the initial closure to high water runoff due to the impending storm. The key word being impending. With the storm coming in, expected to drop a lot of rain, not snow, there was concern about water on the trail. In order for Parks to close the Rubicon Trail, due to water, measurements at specific spots along the trail and digital photographs of those spots must be used to document the conditions. Those do not exist.
But the Department of Transportation can close the road for safety. So, the story shifted back to safety and the DOT closing the trail. It helped that El Dorado County had declared a state of emergency, due to the storms. But this is where I have a problem with the reasoning.
As I understand it, Ice House Road to Loon Lake is not and was never closed. So, to protect the people, then and now, you can’t drive on the Rubicon Trail via Wentworth, but you can drive to Loon Lake and drop on to the Ellis Creek Intertie and drive in to the bowl!
Does that make any sense? Close the Rubicon Trail but keep the road to Loon Lake and the Ellis Creek Trail open. This is a government agency, or multiple agencies, at work and demonstrates why most OHV users don’t trust the government. For the record, throughout this ordeal, the Rubicon Trail has always been open within Placer County.
So, El Dorado County closes the Rubicon Trail for the safety of the people. How many people have died on the Rubicon Trail during the months of December, January, February and March? I do not know of any deaths during those months. How many people die at Lake Tahoe every year, about six. How many people die downhill skiing each year, about 40. How many people die hiking in this country every year, 120-150. Has El Dorado County taken the appropriate steps to protect the people from those activities?
El Dorado County overreacted when people got stuck in the snow. They did something they didn’t have the authority to do. Then they changed the story. And then they changed the story again. Then the Board of Supervisors made it official on January 10th (Resolution 017-2023) and back dated the closure to December 30th in order to provide cover for the unauthorized or even illegal early closure. Here’s a link to my original story and a copy of the signed resolution: https://theotherrubicon.com/2023/01/11/rubicon-trail-closed-within-el-dorado-county-until-feb-30th/
OHV advocacy groups were able to change the county meeting about hearing the above resolution in order to allow public comment but it didn’t seem to help as the board voted 4-1 to adopt the closure. It has been reported that the board members didn’t seem to understand the closure but just took the word of the DOT and passed it.
So, the agreement from 2013 (?) that specified scientific measurements and digital photograph documentation were required to close the trail has been thrown out the window and now any one who thinks it’s unsafe can close the trial on a whim.
We do need to address this issue of winter travel. How do we educate people to prevent travelers from getting in over their heads? Can we require trail users to carry recovery equipment? The state requires that all cars carry chains when driving over a pass in winter. Can certain vehicle enhancements be required to travel during snow conditions, like mud and snow rated tires being required on the highway passes during a storm? There could be precedent there.
If this actually started with a need for a vehicle recovery, do we allow the counties to charge for rescues? Should we, as users, develop a winter rescue group? If so, there should be one at each end of the trail. Should there be a fee to use the trail? Should those from out of the county be charged to use the trail and for rescues, but not locals?
After two deaths in recent weeks, Mt Baldy, in San Bernadino County, is considering a permit system to allow people to climb the mountain. Would a Rubicon Trail permit application ask about driving skills, experience, vehicle upgrades, recovery gear and survival gear? Who would set the standards. Could this be a winter requirement moving forward?
The users need to communicate with all of the government agencies involved with managing the Rubicon Trail and our public lands in order to prevent such knee-jerk reactions. In my opinion, the problem is getting the agencies to communicate with and engage with the users before making any decisions regarding the Rubicon Trail.
-just a user