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August 3, 2020 – I have been paying close attention these past several weeks to the overuse situation at the major crossings of the South Yuba River. The social media outlets are off the charts with comments ranging from outrage to well-thought-out solutions and everything in between. The concern is well founded. We have a problem – one that needs immediate action by the county, the Forest Service, State Parks, and BLM.

As the co-director of a Nevada County non-profit organization that is not able to operate during the pandemic, I can appreciate the grant and relief funding the county is procuring to safeguard our local economy. But if an escaped fire races up the canyon from the river and into town, there will be no businesses left to save.

Ask anyone (formerly) from Paradise, California what they would give to have their homes and community back. Ask them what price they would be willing to pay if they could have prevented that tragedy. Or ask a then decision-maker at PG&E what funds they would allocate if they could go back in time. Those officials have 86 human deaths on their conscience. There is only one redeeming factor in such loss and that is if someone else gets the lesson before it’s too late.

The sheer volume of visitors in recent weeks has resulted in an overflowing of trash, and human and dog waste. This is hard on the ecosystem and it’s a terrible situation, I think we can all agree. But those problems are solvable. We can pick up the trash and dispose of it responsibly. We can reinstate citizen river ambassadors to educate visitors. If there is a catastrophic fire in the canyon, there is no cleanup in the world that will bring Nevada City back.

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There are viable, reasonable, and implementable plans and ideas to solve the parking, traffic, illegal campfire, trash, and waste issues. I have heard many already. If someone comes to you with a solid plan and ideas to mitigate the risks of injury or death while we get a handle on this problem, and your response is “we don’t have the resources” then I beg you to make finding and allocating the resources your top priority. If something terrible comes of this, and I hope with all of my heart that we are lucky and that nothing does, then you want to look back on this time with a clear conscience, knowing that you did everything in your power to prevent it.

I don’t think I can overstate the urgency that we act now, and that we act decisively.

Debra Weistar

Co-director, Synergia Learning Center

Nevada County CAG member (Community Advisory Group) 2017