9 Miles of Community Building: The Story of Mills Peak TrailOriginally posted on February 15, 2018 at 8:34 am
By Kurt Gensheimer
What started in 2007 as a dream to construct a 9-mile multi-use singletrack trail with 3,000 vertical feet of elevation came to its full realization on January 16, 2018, when the final 1.7 miles of singletrack on Mills Peak Trail in Graeagle, California was completed. The final build bypassed an unpopular jeep road that interrupted the flowing singletrack experience of this now widely popular trail. This 11-year project was an enduring partnership between the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS), numerous public agencies, including Plumas National Forest – Beckwourth Ranger District and Eastern Plumas Recreation District, Ibis Cycles, many volunteers and local supporters.
Building a trail to provide world-class recreation opportunities that can help save an economically struggling region is not an easy task. Numerous complicated grant applications to state and federal funding sources were turned down, forcing SBTS to get creative. The most innovative was the $5 Bucks a Foot campaign, raffling off a brand new mountain bike to one lucky winner. Through two different $5 Bucks A Foot campaigns with Ibis Cycles, the giveaway raised more than $100,000 for the construction of Mills Peak. This fundraising idea SBTS pioneered was so successful that it’s become a model used by other trailbuilding organizations across the country.
While having money enables construction, the work can’t get done without blood, sweat and tears – all of which were shed building Mills Peak thanks to an army of volunteers, many of which are Lost Sierra locals. Whether battling through walls of manzanita, using winch lines and hoists to move giant rocks for trailbed armoring or walking the trail each season with a chainsaw to clear downed trees, hundreds of people have played a part in the construction and maintenance of Mills Peak.
“What most people don’t realize is that ninety percent of a trail building effort takes place before construction even starts,” said Ron Heard, a Clio resident who’s been instrumental in creating Mills Peak Trail, volunteering hundreds of hours on the project. “It took years to get this new 1.7-mile reroute approved and only a few months to build it.”
Along with Trails for Recreation and Community (TRAC), an eastern Plumas County trail advocacy and public outreach group, SBTS engaged the local community as well as folks as far away as Reno and the Bay Area to volunteer time and effort on Mills Peak. But the going was almost never easy.
The creation of Mills Peak tested mettle and resolve, breaking off many hand tools and pushing the limits of motorized equipment. “Old Wobbly” – the trusty SBTS trail dozer that’s built 80 miles of singletrack and maintained 800 miles of existing trail since 2010 – even met its match on Mills Peak. Thanks to the frozen ground and massive rocks that needed to be moved constructing the final section of trail, Old Wobbly lost a limb, its steel arm snapping clean off, hanging only by its hydraulic hoses. Thankfully custom bicycle frame builder Cameron Falconer of Quincy stepped in to help, using his welding expertise to put Old Wobbly back together, enabling the completion of Mills Peak before the snow really started flying.
“The process of fundraising, designing, constructing and maintaining Mills Peak Trail has been an educational workshop for us,” said Greg Williams, SBTS Executive Director. “Having gone through the process, we now want to share our experience and knowledge with trail organizations, community leaders and land managers in hopes we can inspire others to help revive the mountain way of living through recreation.”
This ribbon of singletrack providing fun, beauty and enjoyment drawing international recognition and visitors was a true community effort, bringing much needed tourism dollars to the economy of Plumas County. Mills Peak Trail is proof that a motivated and organized group of folks who want to do something good for the future of their community can persevere, no matter how deep or challenging the digging gets.
The public is invited to join SBTS on May 18 for a Mills Peak Trail volunteer workday, putting the finishing touches on the trail tread as well as having an official grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony. More information about our volunteer Trail Daze workdays can be found at sierratrails.org.