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Shelly Covert of Nevada City Rancheria speaks to a group at opening ceremony of Rice’s Crossing two years ago. With new funding, Bear Yuba Land Trust and tribal members will work together to develop signage at the preserve detailing cultural history of this section of the Yuba River. Photo Credit: Laura Petersen

Yuba and Nevada counties, August 17, 2016 – This month, California Natural Resources Agency awarded Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) $312,217 to develop multi-use, public recreation amenities for Rice’s Crossing Preserve, a 6-mile stretch of the Yuba River.

Over the next two years, new parking areas for cars and horse trailers, picnic ramadas, informational kiosks, restrooms and more than seven miles of new trails will be constructed on the 2,700 acre preserve.

“We are thrilled to be awarded this important grant that will allow us to create public access features that were envisioned when we acquired the property,” said BYLT’s Executive Director Marty Coleman-Hunt.

Acquired by BYLT in 2014, Rice’s Crossing Preserve includes the north fork and main stem of the Yuba River, located in both Nevada and Yuba counties between Bullards Bar Reservoir and South Yuba State Park at Bridgeport and Englebright Reservoir.

The newest round of funding will enhance healthy outdoor recreation along the Yuba River corridor. Activities like mountain biking, hiking, horse-back riding, swimming, fishing, kayaking and birding are expected to boost the tourism economy of the region.

Implementation of the project will make about 1,500 acres of the preserve more available to the public for recreation use.

“This grant is an amazing opportunity for BYLT to expand our existing trail system along the Yuba River and provide an educational experience for youth and adults to learn about our natural landscapes, Native American history and the vast water conveyance system that we all rely on,” said BYLT’s Director of Land Stewardship Erin Tarr.

In 2014, BYLT received $3.25 million in Proposition 84 funds through the California Natural Resources Agency’s River Parkways Program ($1.9 million), Sierra Nevada Conservancy ($1 million) and CalTrans Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program ($350,000) to purchase the important river property and permanently protect it from development.

The project serves populations of Sierra, Yuba and Nevada counties in rural communities of Marysville, Yuba City, Beale Air Force Base, Dobbins, Oregon House, Camptonville, Downieville, North San Juan, French Bar, Smartsville, Penn Valley, Grass Valley and Nevada City. Providing additional river access will help relieve over-crowding at nearby South Yuba River State Park at Bridgeport.

Habitat and history

Middle Yuba at French Bar. Photo Credit: Margie Determan

The project will focus on the south and north public entrance points of the preserve near and along the Yuba River. During the design phase of the project, BYLT considered: River health, anadromous fish restoration, preservation of Native American sites and heritage, and environmentally responsible outdoor recreation activities for a broad demographic.

The improvements add to the existing Yuba Rim Trail opened to the public in 2015. Above the confluence of the Middle Yuba River and North Yuba River, the trail offers views of snow-capped peaks in winter and a moderately challenging hike.

At the southern end, French Bar at Rice’s Crossing opened in April 2016 to the public for the first time in nearly a century. Wildlife such as bear fishing for trout, eagles soaring overhead and otters playing in the river can be observed.

“BYLT is devoted to protecting critical wildlife habitat as well as allowing public access onto our lands. The immensity of Rice’s Crossing Preserve is an incredible opportunity to do both of these things,” said Tarr

“The Yuba River Canyon is steep and wild along this stretch of the river and the majority of the Preserve will remain as wilderness. Within these wild areas we will devote our resources to obtaining grant funding for healthy forest and watershed management projects which will create resilient habitat structures to ensure future sustainability,” said Erin Tarr.

The challenges of water management as it relates to human consumption and the conservation of river and delta ecosystems will also be a theme of signage on the Preserve. Each panel will be bi-lingual in English and Spanish languages.

Interpretive panels will address Native American and mining history, native flora and fauna and the nature and dynamics of the Yuba River watershed. Members of the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan will work with the Land Trust to develop interpretive panels.

“Rice’s Crossing is where we have an ancient burning ground and where our family had a stage stop and ranch. It’s the place where Nisenan family members hid when they ran away from the Indian Boarding School and it’s the place where stories that are still alive within the Tribe became part of our memory,” said Shelly Covert, Spokesperson of Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council.

“We want visitors to know that we have always had a relationship with this land and that we would like to share the story of that relationship with our local community. We can provide a voice that is missing from the story and is even missing from the history of this place. The Nisenan remain here in our ancient homelands we are not extinct and we are excited to talk about our cultural history,” Covert said.

Trails builds community

BYLT’s staff and volunteers will build 3.3 miles of new trail at South Rice’s Crossing Welcome Center. The new trails will include a connector trail that will link to an existing “fisherman” trail to enhance river access, a loop trail that will head uphill through woodlands and wildflower meadows and a trail along the Yuba River. In addition, the funding will help with the creation of a parking area, kiosk, ramada with picnic table, benches for group talks, a kiosk, safety signage and restroom.

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At the North Confluence Welcome Center, crews will work on 3.9 miles of trail including: widening of existing Yuba Rim Trail to allow for equestrian use, a new .5 mile connector loop trail along the south edge of the north meadow, an expansion trail across U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property to access BYLT’s rugged river access trail known as Yuba Drop. Funding will also improve parking, add a kiosk, ramada and picnic area, vista bench and informational signage.

Numerous community partners have pledged support for the project.

BLM, Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and local nonprofit groups Bicyclists of Nevada County and Gold Country Trails Council have written letters of support, pledged with financial contributions or offered to partner with trail building. Approximately two miles of new trails will be built on agency lands contiguous to the preserve. Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) will assist BYLT in developing water safety signage.

South Yuba River Citizens’ League (SYRCL) and Sierra Streams Institute (SSI) will consult with the Land Trust to develop Yuba River watershed elements for the signs. In addition, BYLT will continue its long history of partnering with youth organizations by involving scouts, local schools and AmeriCorps on this latest project.

“BYLT thanks the many agencies and groups who provided letters of support for this grant. These include Yuba County Water Agency, the Nevada City Rancheria, Bicyclists of Nevada County, Gold Country Trails Council, SYRCL, Sierra Streams Institute, BLM and Army Corps of Engineers,” said BYLT’s Executive Director Marty Coleman-Hunt.

Construction is expected to commence in the spring, with completion anticipated in the summer and fall of 2017.

BYLT will hold its annual benefit Open Spaces and Wild Places: A Celebration of Land on Sept. 10. To learn more about this fun, community event; Rice’s Crossing Preserve, and other conservation projects, visit: www.bylt.org

Know before you go:

Yuba Rim (north end in Yuba County)

Hike the 2.25 mile Yuba Rim Trail out to the scenic overlook and back. Identify birds and other wildlife. Picnic in the meadow. Take photos of the river canyon.

How to get there: From Nevada City, take Highway 49 towards Camptonville, turn left on Marysville Road and cross over the Bullards Bar Dam. Rice’s Crossing Preserve is located 1.3 miles from the dam. There is a sign. Park in the rock quarry on the right and cross the road to the North Meadow where you will find the trailhead.

French Bar (south end in Nevada County)

This section of the preserve is open five days a week, closed Tuesdays and Thursdays. To protect sensitive wildlife, dogs are not allowed. Please, No Swimming. The water current and flows are swift and dangerous and can change dramatically, presenting life-threatening conditions. Cost: $5 parking fee.

How to get there: From Pleasant Valley road, about one-quarter mile past the historic covered bridge on the left, take the first left, which is a hairpin turn with a small State Park sign. Upon reaching a “T” in the road (or three-way intersection) turn left onto the downhill gravel road.  Drive for about three-quarters of a mile and then veer left at the “V” (also downhill).  Continue about two miles before turning right up a steep gravel drive to the entrance gate. After going through the gate, find a parking place.