NEVADA CITY, Calif. – Deer Creek winds through town, from Cascade Shores to the back of Ridge Road. Trails starting in downtown invite locals and visitors alike to stroll near the stream, and learn about the history of the land and its people. Whispering in the summer and even roaring during winter storms, the creek’s voice is sometimes drowned out by parties on creek shores, the sounds of beer cans smashed on rocks, trash dumped in heaps and, most frightening of all, the crackling of bonfires lit by careless humans.
Thankfully, the creek’s voice is heard and amplified by locals. Granted, it’s helpful to have a spokesperson like Lorraine Gervais. The Jazz, R&B and Soul performer and husband Charlie Faber (C&D Contractors) are members of the Deer Creek Southside FireWise Community. The group’s area encompasses a little over 300 acres on the south side of Deer Creek, roughly from Tribulation Trail to Providence Mine.
They’ve been very concerned about the fuel load in the Deer Creek canyon, the increasing number of camps and the resulting fire danger. Given its location, any fire starting in the drainage can rapidly endanger all of Nevada City.
The group reached out to officials over the years, with little success at first. The south side of Deer Creek in that area is a patchwork of City, County, tribal and private property with no firmly established property lines.
“I’ve been sounding the alarm to the City and other agencies for a number of years, but until this last summer, when I went into overdrive because of the River Fire—I got pretty much no response except for ‘Sorry, it’s not our problem, we can’t figure out the property boundaries and therefore we don’t believe it’s in our jurisdiction.'” Gervais said. “After sending out a new round of photos last summer I finally got everyone to at least agree that it needed actual attention no matter whose property it was.”
Private property owners were contacted by Gervais, Faber and Richard Thomas and agreed “it was a bad situation and that something had to be done to stop the campers/partiers.” The FireWise group installed locks on various gates with the owners permission and shared access combinations with local fire and law enforcement.
These “before” photos were taken in late March, showing some of the abandoned camps and the garbage dumped along the creek.
Making a big dent
On Saturday, twenty-two volunteers showed up, including Homeless Outreach and Medical Engagement (HOME) Team Supervisor Kristen Glanz. Charlie Faber (C&D Contractors), supplied 4 employees, heavy machinery, and an end dump to haul away garbage. Waste Management donated a 40 cubic yard dumpster. Approximately 70 yards of garbage were hauled out.
Following a trail up a steep slope, FireWise member Antonio spotted another camp shortly before noon. The group grabbed large bags and ropes and clambered up. While dismantling the camp, an open mineshaft was discovered, filled with bottles, propane tanks and other trash.
The volunteers cleaned up at least 6 large abandoned camps and removed trees that had been felled in the roadway, ostensibly to discourage hikers to access this portion of the creek. They removed piles of crutches, medical walkers, tires and even sections of dismantled gates along the roadside.
One bear’s nap was interrupted by the cleanup and he ambled off further downstream without protest. A rattlesnake was relocated and a riotous group of Steller’s jays seemed to voice their approval of the cleanup.
Volunteer work vital but not enough
“This coordinated effort was a result of the efforts by the Deer Creek Southside FireWise Community Committee.” Gervais said. “[Councilmember] Erin Minett has been instrumental in the past year, helping us to get an emergency ban on campfires along Deer Creek and to set up meetings with the City and Home Team representatives. She also secured the tribal waivers for us.”
Minett praised the Southside FireWise group and their continuous efforts. “It took six meetings with my advisory group, Lorraine and South Side Firewise group, to get signatures and make sure that everybody could go where they needed to go. At the last minute, Charlie (Faber) got Waste Management there. I didn’t do that. The city didn’t do that. Charlie did that.”
Speaking of the fire danger so close to town, Minett continued, “You don’t know it until you’re standing there and looking around. I love what got done on Saturday, but we can’t just say, oh great, we did that – we’re done. No, we’re not done. We’re not even close to done.”
Collaboration and coordination
More coordination between agencies is a goal the group will continue to push for. They are hoping for joint efforts similar to the one taking place this Thursday in Grass Valley – a Community Camp Cleanup, hosted in partnership with South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), County of Nevada, Nevada County Waste Management, Common Spirit Health (Dignity Health), Grass Valley Police Department (GVPD), BriarPatch Food Co-op and the Homeless Outreach and Medical Engagement (HOME) team, which is a collaboration between Hospitality House, Nevada County Behavioral Health and Turning Point.
As the volunteers wrapped up and enjoyed a well-deserved slice of homemade pie, Gervais summed up the group’s next steps. “We need an actual plan and partnership with the City and any other agencies to keep the canyon free from camps and garbage, human sewage and other toxic substances leaking into Deer Creek, and the inevitable firestorm that will take us all out.”
Well worth preserving