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New Hidden Falls trailhead for North Auburn?

Regional park access effort green-lighted by Placer supervisors
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Gus Thomson/Auburn Journal

The current access point for the Hidden Falls Regional Park includes a parking lot that fills up on weekends and holidays.

 

Placer County is moving to create a new access point in North Auburn to Hidden Falls Regional Park.

But neighbors are objecting to the potential incursion on Bell Road that could result in a 100-space parking lot and a bump up in traffic.

The terms of a land purchase agreement that could expand access to the park gained Board of Supervisors approval last week.

The agreement terms authorize the purchase of the 50-acre Twilight Ride property northeast of the park for $1.12 million through the county’s Placer Legacy program.

The purchase would be in line with the county’s proposed Hidden Falls park expansion project, which, if approved, could double the park’s trail network from 30 to 60 miles over an additional 2,500 acres to the northeast of the park.

A preliminary county evaluation of the property indicated that it could potentially accommodate a new trailhead to improve access to the park, as well as up to an estimated 100 parking spaces and 40 spaces for vehicles with horse trailers.

The board’s action approves only the terms of a purchase agreement for the land, not the final sale of the land or the project itself. The terms include a due diligence period and allow the county a year to conduct public outreach, perform environmental review and obtain any needed approvals before the land sale would be completed.

Congestion at the current parking lot has been an ongoing concern, with visitors now required to buy parking passes online before visiting the park during peak days, like this past week’s Memorial Day.

Supervisors Jennifer Montgomery and Jim Holmes declined to support the agreement in a 3-2 vote, both proposing to delay the vote to allow for more community discussion before making a decision.

Bart Ruud, whose family has owned ranch land in the Barton Road-Bell Road area the parking lot-trailhead could be located in since 1940, said that the Mears Place-Mears Road rural ambience next to the existing trailhead off Mount Vernon Road has been ruined by the increased public use of the roads into the Hidden Falls trailhead. Impacts are likely to include increased traffic congestion, vandalism, theft and trespassing on nearby ranch land, he said.

Ruud said the purchase will be paid for primarily from the county’s Placer Legacy Open Space trust fund, which his family has donated to.

“I never envisioned it would be used to buy a spot for a parking lot,” Ruud said. “It’s a tragedy that these things happen. If I was a multimillionaire, I’d find a way to delay this thing until I’m dead.”

A county partner in developing more open space and trails in Placer County is pleased with the potential acquisition — but is also attempting to steer clear of the debate over building a parking lot.

Jeff Darllington, executive director of the Placer Land Trust, said that for more than a decade, the trust has had hundreds of acres adjacent to Hidden Falls poised for recreational uses but with no way for the public to gain access to the land.

“This is our Big Hill Preserve, with views of the Central Valley, the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada, and miles of multi-use trail that we’ve built over the past few years,” Darlington said.

But the Auburn-based land trust isn’t responsible for development of local roads, parking lots and trailheads that help provide public access, he said.

“So we’re pleased the county will be acquiring this property and working with the local community over the next year or so to study and mitigate impacts of a potential new trailhead,” Darlington said.