Friday, March 7, 2014

Stewards Log        7 March 2014

The following story was written by Rick Sanger.  Rick is a former board chair of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance and long time Sierra back country ranger.  Rick read this story at the close of the State of the Creek Community meeting in October 2013.   He and his wife Suzanne are ever so close to becoming parents for the first time.

Once upon a time, a creek was born.  And along its shores plants found sustenance and animals, a way of life.  It grew a rich web of life that surrounded and enveloped it, which in turn, created magic – the kind of magic that only pristine environments have.  That magic drew people, who camped along its shores and enjoyed the bounty that its waters brought.  The stream was the vital heart of the great body of the watershed.
More people came.  But They came not for the creek, but for the gold.  And the people who sought gold built a town. The creek still flowed along the town’s edges, and behind its back, but for the most part, it was forgotten and it kept to itself.  Sometimes it spoke out, and ran through the town and through peoples homes jumping and celebrating a spring rebirth.  The people didn’t like its celebrations, and spent the summers trying to silence it.  They bound it.  They buried it. But the stream still flowed.  It’s whisper could be heard if one only listened close enough.
A gentle man and a clever teacher, listened to the whisper - and had a vision. They decided to help settle the differences that the creek and the town were having.  They volunteered to translate, to facilitate, to mediate.  They formed an alliance
The teacher had been teaching the creek’s lessons to children, and thought there was something there for adults to learn.
A realtor joined them - who had built his home at the creek’s birthplace to be nurtured by it’s spirit.  In exchange, he wanted to heal the creek’s wounds.
They were joined by a farmer – a man who knew the value of water, for he had chosen his home where the creek could feed his crops.
A father enjoyed one afternoon watching his daughter play in the creek’s waters, then learned later that thousands of gallons of raw sewage had been dumped upstream.  He joined for the sake of his children.
A photographer found the flowing water an interesting subject.
A recent college graduate joined the alliance to help out, get some experience, and see a new part of the country. She often insisted she was an alien.
A 47-year old with a well-developed beer belly came to an alliance meeting.  His wife made him come because she couldn’t drive after her eye exam.  Not wanting to wait in the car,  he came inside.   Later that year, rather than just pave over his entire patio area, he used some mulch and dug a little swale.
Others joined in to help.  Some had persistence, some expertise, some dedication,  some a sense of duty, some a sense of fun.  Some had gentle hearts, and some had strong arms.  Some had more patience than others.  But an alliance with all these qualities was a strong alliance, indeed.
Most came only with passion, but the passion led to knowledge, and even expertise.  They taught themselves and each other about macro-invertebrates and zero run off and creek setbacks and ā nád ro mous fish.  They learned about arsenic and yellow boy and mercury and mining.  And they struggled with power point and grant writing and nonprofit regulations.
They learned about dissolved oxygen and turbidity and data collection and databases and, worst of all – public speaking.
They went to city hall . And went again… and again and again. And sometimes were even able to change city policy.  They envisioned a parkway that would re-acquaint the community with the stream and its gifts.
But it wasn’t always easy, they learned about compromise, and underhanded politics, and property rights and gold.  They disagreed with each other, and others disagreed with them.  People were scared of flooding.  People were scared of vagrants. People were just scared.  And so, the alliance learned about people, too.
I am part of that alliance.  And you are part of that alliance. And there are many more – including the birds and myriads of critters that we choose to represent here.  And although we work to protect those critters and the creek, ultimately it’s those critters and that creek that are keeping us alive.

A long time has passed since those days, and many more people have come to that beautiful town by the creek.  But now, like in ancient times, many have come for the creek and the parkway that gently follows along it.  The  trees that were planted have mostly matured.  Under one is a shaded bench - the favorite spot for an elderly lady that you can see there most days.  She loves to watch the squirrels leaping between the trees, and she feeds them a little, even though she knows she’s not supposed to.
 A 33 year old redhead uses the parkway to bike everyday from the co-housing area to her work in Brunswick basin without having to risk her life in traffic.  Each day she passes the spot where she was taken as a school girl to sample the water and learn about the creek.
A teenager with long hair thinks the fishing is best up near Sutton Way.
A newlywed couple just moved to town.  The wife happened to see a group of folks down in the trees picking up trash and went to talk with them.  She told her husband about the group – called Wolf Creek Community Alliance and she thinks she’ll adopt a section of the parkway to help keep it clean and to meet some new people. She tells him, “They’re even trying to extend the parkway all the way to Auburn!”
A young business woman started an espresso stand along the parkway under the large oak near downtown – the same tree, she thinks, that she once drew on a big school mural.  A jogger likes to end his morning jog there – to sip his coffee, feel the early morning sun and listen to the water.  He watches a group of 3 mothers pushing baby carriages – they pass by nearly every day.  He takes in their gossip when they pass, smiling -  it’s a good contrast to the newspaper.
A father likes to bring his young sons downtown to a place the locals call “the beach.”  He stops to read an interpretive sign to his oldest.  It tells of stream biology, and of how the area looked before the parkway was built.  But the son can’t imagine how it could be that the beach  was once a parking lot, or why anyone would want to put a creek in a tunnel.  He asks his dad, “but what did the frogs do? Did they live in the tunnel too?”
The creek is once again part of the community.  People listen to it and help it when they can.  They understand that it’s worth the effort because the creek helps the town in return.  It cools it, provides for recreation and harbors gentle places to relax.  The creek is a route for safe transportation and a tool for education.  It’s habitat supports an entire network of life and this makes life better for people, as well.  Everyone understands that in protecting the creek,  they are helping to protect the entire world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Steward’s Log 5 March 2014

Much ado lately in local press and other spheres concerning the future of Grass Valley.  Citizens, elected officials, print journalists, bloggers, and other characters have bandied about a variety of notions.  At issue:  What is, what has, and what will really revitalize Grass Valley?  It has been suggested the new Dorsey interchange is the true “silver bullet.”  It has been suggested a new “Lifestyle Mall” at the interchange is the key to our future, complete with a big or at least a medium box.  “Its what the people want.”

Not long ago the buzz was the re-opening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine.  Before that it was Loma Rica, other annexations, the shopping malls, and heck even the freeway itself.  Brilliant idea that freeway, and convenient.  Of course great swaths of private and commercial property were condemned, Nevada City lost the old gazebo, and Wolf Creek sentenced to run underground through tunnels and culverts for much of its downtown reach.  A bit further back are the mines themselves, the mills, Lake Olympia, the Narrow Gauge Railroad, and …

Except for a portion of the original Loma Rica plan, these ideas and “improvements” - while visionary to varying degrees - are all based on quite conventional nineteenth or twentieth century thought.  All have brought, or will bring some gain.  All have tradeoffs.  Everything does.

Several recent comments aim to push the conversation toward a 21st century framework.  Mr. Pelline suggests we are leaving history out of the equation.  He and the current Union Editorial Board call for a comprehensive outlook instead of the usual piece-meal strategy.  Jeff Frisch of the Sierra Business Council goes one step further to suggest folks today “Want to live, work, shop and be entertained in the place they live; they want to walk and ride bikes; they want access to trails and open space; they want affordable starter housing for working people because young people can’t afford the single family residential American dream anymore; people crave authenticity and a sense of place."

Two things.  One, the City of Grass Valley has secured a grant to pursue a Comprehensive Economic Development Plan.  I am told by high level city staffers that a multi-year series of public meetings will commence sometime later this year to do just that.  Fabulous.

Two.  Yes, a comprehensive outlook with a broad perspective is indeed a welcome idea.  But the discourse must also include the age-old concept of the Commons.  To be sure Grass Valley and Western Nevada County need to continue moving forward economically.  But as Mr. Frisch suggests, we should do so authentically and with a renewed sense of “place.”

The common thread through Grass Valley is Wolf Creek.  Like most “commons” it has been virtually invisible, neglected, used, and abused since the get-go in the 1850s.  Commons in general are taken for granted and not valued in the complex accounting of GDP and “economic growth.”  And yet in their wisdom the Grass Valley City Council unanimously approved a Conceptual Plan for a Wolf Creek Parkway in 2006.  A Wolf Creek Trail is mentioned in city documents as early as 1999 and is included in the Downtown Strategic Plan.

Little or nothing has happened in the last eight years to move the concept forward.  The time to do so is now.  The Wolf Creek Parkway can and should stand as the centerpiece of any Comprehensive Economic Development Plan.  Yes for the creek’s sake, but more importantly for OURS.  We need a healthy visible accessible creek to revitalize ourselves.  A place to walk, a place to bike, a place to just sit by moving water will provide a profound sense of place and connection to the natural world.  It will help each of us feel good about our town.  Citizens and visitors alike will benefit from the shared values derived from Wolf Creek, the “Real Gold in Grass Valley.”

Urban river and creek restoration has boosted property values and economic vitality in San Luis Obispo, Napa, Santa Rosa, and Tempe, AZ.  Plans are underway for a major rehabilitation of the Los Angeles River.  Freeway interchanges, bridges, and places to shop locally are indeed essential to our vitality, as would be high speed internet access.  But the Wolf Creek Parkway will make a statement and put Grass Valley “on the map.”  The Parkway epitomizes a bold move into 21st Century thinking.

Let the conversation continue.  For additional information please visit the website of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance.      

Bruce Herring
Parkway Steward
Wolf Creek Community Alliance