Adam Blauert

Outdoors: Visit Malakoff Park, you'll 'digg' it

California's annual budget crisis appears to be over for this year, but there is no doubt that it will return next year.

One of the sacrifices made to achieve a balanced ledger sheet is the closure of 70 of the state's 278 state parks.

State parks provide affordable recreation and it is sad to see that a large number of the parks are in the Central Valley, the poorest part of the state.

Several different schemes have been suggested to keep park gates open. Alden Olmstead has set up donation boxes at every state park to help raise the $33 million needed to keep the gates open.

Raley's, Bel Air and Nob Hill grocery stores are contributing 5 cents for every reusable grocery bag customers use while shopping. Special use fees to allow dogs on trails and fees for out-of-state visitors at some of the most popular campgrounds have been suggested to help bridge the gap. Organizations like Henry Coe State Park's Pine Ridge Association may be able to provide additional volunteers to staff parks.

Many have asked why some parks that are primarily used for hiking can't be operated more like federally managed wilderness areas or the East Bay Regional Park District — open gates, no onsite personnel and free or nominally priced parking.

Hopefully a combination of these proposed solutions may be the solution.

It's easy to argue that parks aren't important when visitor totals are low. While some of this may result from the relative obscurity of lesser-known parks, another important reason is that most state parks already have very limited hours. Reducing hours reduces the number of visitors, which in turn provides an argument for closing a park altogether.

No matter what ultimately happens, the parks on the closure list will be open until July 1 of next year. That means you have a year to explore some of these great recreation areas and show that there is support for keeping gates open.

Malakoff Diggings

Over the Independence Day holiday, I visited one of my favorite parks on the list — Malakoff Diggings.

Located 15 miles from Nevada City, Malakoff preserves the mining town of North Bloomfield and the landscape created by one of the state's largest hydraulic mining operations. Hydraulic mining was outlawed in 1884 because of the destruction it caused.

Unlike more commonly known types of mining that involved tunneling into the earth or sifting the sand and rock of rivers, hydraulic mining used high-pressure water to wash away entire hillsides. Much of the debris ended up on the floor of the Central Valley, devastating farms and flooding cities.

At Malakoff today you can see the effects of this type of mining and hike among the eroded cliffs that were shaped as water was used to release gold from Nevada County's hills. Easy trails wind through a landscape that alternates between haunting devastation and shades of Utah's red rock country.

Within the park are the restored buildings of North Bloomfield, the headquarters of the operation. Visitors can peer through the windows of the town's school, stores, homes and Catholic church.

The area's history is explained in a small museum. Local school groups learn about California history every year by participating in an overnight environmental living program. The students in the program take on the roles of 19th century miners and learn about the past by re-enacting it.

Malakoff preserves a nearly forgotten, but important part of our history.

It's also one of those places that doesn't get overrun with visitors on holiday weekends. Although the campground was full on Fourth of July weekend, the town and trails were peaceful and uncrowded.

Relief from summer heat can be found in the cool waters of the Yuba River watershed. Try the park's Blair Lake or the nearby Oregon Creek Recreation Area at Highway 49 and the Middle Fork of the Yuba River.

Scenic North Bloomfield Road from Nevada City to the park is narrow but paved. A campground at the park offers as campsites three rustic miner's cabins for $35/$40 a night. All services are available in nearby Nevada City and Grass Valley, two of the quaintest and best-preserved Gold Rush towns.

Preserving the history of the state's most productive hard rock mine, Grass Valley's Empire Mine State Historic Park is also worth a visit while you are in the area.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman and local historian who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the Western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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