Wolf Creek has not been properly valued as a community resource since the first miners settled in Grass Valley in the 1850s. Neglected and abused, it is sorely in need of care and rehabilitation. Wolf Creek Community Alliance is sprearheading three different efforts related to restoring the creek to a healthy ecosystem that can provide recreation opportunities, support wildlife, supply clean water to users downstream, and protect against property damage in times of flood. We are conducting ecological restoration of the creek bed, surrounding riparian zone, and adjacent wild areas; beginning the process of cleaning up dangerous mining waste sites in the watershed; and working with the City of Grass Valley to develop the Wolf Creek Parkway.
Many of the WCCA volunteers involved in the creek monitoring and stewardship program are also involved with restoration projects. Their regular presence at specific sites along the creek helps to inform our proposals for restoration projects, and to identify land-use practices that negatively impact Wolf Creek. We have a long list of viable restoration projects for which we are seeking funding and partnerships with other environmental groups. We participate with Nevada County Fire Safe Council and other local environmental groups in removing Scotch Broom, and with SYRCL for annual river and stream clean up events.
We are currently collaborating with California State Parks Sierra District on the restoration of a section of South Fork Wolf Creek and an adjacent meadow.
The community of Grass Valley was founded on the extraction of gold buried deep within the Earth. From the start of the Gold Rush in 1849 through the closing of the hard rock gold mines in the 1950s, gold mining served as a foundation of the community's economy, providing economic stability even through the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unfortunately, there was a darker side to the gold era. Gold mining caused cultural and environmental degradation and left a toxic legacy that persists to this day.
Due to the diversity of the geologic substrata in this watershed, mining here liberated large amounts of a number of different heavy metals and toxins, including iron (and attendant sulfates from pyrites), arsenic, cadmium, chromium, aluminum, antimony, barium, cobalt, thallium, manganese, lead, zinc, and asbestos. Contaminants from the gold-separation processes used include mercury and cyanide. Some of these contaminants are present at high levels in tributaries of Wolf Creek (notably Magenta Drain, but we suspect that other sources exist).
Wolf Creek Community Alliance is beginning to address gold mining legacy issues through testing and public outreach and education. With the help of a small grant from the Rose Foundation, WCCA is building a program that will provide a platform for addressing mining legacy issues further and securing increased funding.
WCCA is sampling mine tailings at various sites on public property along Wolf Creek. Through this testing we can begin to identify sites we would like to examine when more funding becomes available. The tailings samples are taken directly next to the creek. During storm events, these tailings wash into the creek and are transferred throughout the watershed. By documenting what metals are present at these sites and combining the information with our water-quality and benthic macro-invertebrate data, we can further understand the extent to which mining toxins affect our watershed.
Wolf Creek Community Alliance believes that it is vital to educate the public about the many potential environmental and health impacts of historical mining in our watershed. We are currently developing a short documentary on the gold mining legacy in the Wolf Creek watershed. We also have maps which display the location of mines throughout the watershed. There are more than 337 mines in the watershed, with more than 71 located within the city limits of Grass Valley. As more information becomes available, we will continue to develop maps to give a better spatial understanding of mining in the watershed.
More information about legacy mining is available from the sources listed below:
On a rainy April night in 2006 the Grass Valley City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Wolf Creek Parkway, thereby adopting the Parkway Alignment Study and Conceptual Master Plan. This action came on the heels of an extensive series of public meetings that confirmed widespread community support for the project. A "Wolf Creek Trail" is also mentioned in the 2020 General Plan adopted in 1999 and the Downtown Strategic Plan from 2003.
The plan calls for a multi-use trail along the creek from the corner of Idaho-Maryland and Sutton Roads, down through town to Glenn Jones Park at the North Star Mining Museum. Connecting trails are planned both in the Loma Rica development at the upper end, and at the lower end thanks to the Bear Yuba Land Trust.
The Conceptual Plan divides the Parkway into six different sections, or reaches. Each Reach has its own particular set of choices to make and obstacles to overcome. Folks in 2006 suggested it may be more feasible to obtain funding and approval for one or two reaches first. Obstacles include sections with very little room adjacent to roads and private property, some sticky engineering challenges, channelization of the creek in concrete furrows, and several lengthy sections where the creek travels under roads and parking lots.
The Parkway will provide
Wolf Creek needs allies. Like most commons, it has been virtually invisible, neglected, used, and abused since the get-go in the 1850s. Like most common wealth—air waterways, oceans, sidewalks—it is taken for granted and not valued in the complex accounting of GDP and economic growth.
The time has come to change that and move forward. And not just for the creek's sake, but for ours. A healthy visible accessible creek in the heart of Grass Valley will make us proud. It will help us feel good about ourselves. It will increase property values and the economic vitality of our home and our connection to it. All citizens and visitors will benefit from the shared values derived from Wolf Creek—the "real gold" in Grass Valley. Urban river and creek rehabilitation has given a boost to the downtown areas of San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Napa, Santa Rosa, and Tempe AZ. Plans are even underway for a major rehabilitation of the Los Angeles River.
There remain many issues to be sorted out. Funding needs to be secured for design, engineering reports, environmental review, permits, and then contracts for implementation. There are alternate routes and other connecting trails to consider. The Parkway is a long-term project to be sure. It will take years really.
But we are confident that intelligent, well-meaning folks of all stripes can find ample common ground here. Together we can sit down and make something happen. In doing so we create a bridge between state and market, public and private, left and right, logos and mythos. Cities and towns are the political entities making stuff happen these days. Pragmatic and visionary mayors, city councils, business and social entrepreneurs, and citizens groups are not waiting for states and federal governments to act.
The Wolf Creek Community Alliance and other Parkway supporters have begun a series of meetings with city personnel, property owners, civic groups, non-profits, schools, and individuals to spread the word and gather momentum. We seek solutions to all concerns that can be worked out by all stakeholders and interested parties coming together. Contact us if you want to help. In the meantime, talk to people. Walk along the creek. Sit by it. Listen to the concerns of those who live or work along the proposed Parkway.