Joint effort promises safe access to Mossbrae Falls

Richard DuPertuis
Outfitted as if for the beach, a dozen men, women and several children begin a casual stroll to Mossbrae Falls in Dunsmuir Saturday. Around the bend, hikers had to choose between walking along a narrow right of way or walking directly on the tracks. Since this division was in use, these people risked meeting a train on the way. In some places, the ground on the river side had eroded too close to the rail to provide safe clearance from a locomotive.

As two Dunsmuir Fire Safe board members shared plans for trail construction at a sparsely-attended town hall meeting last Wednesday, a mapped idea emerged which would extend the Hedge Creek Falls path upriver to a bridge and across to provide safe access to Mossbrae Falls.

Such a project would relieve foot traffic on live railroad tracks, a safety problem that worsened recently due to widely publicized directions to the popular natural wonder.

County supervisor Ed Valenzuela said that Dunsmuir city manager and Union Pacific have discussed the problem. “They want them off the railroad tracks, period,” he said of people who stroll on or along the tracks, seemingly oblivious to the potential danger posed by the sudden appearance of a train.

Valenzuela also asked the presenters if they thought this was a fire safe project. “No,” answered board member Mike Refkin. Board secretary Karen Bradley agreed that this was not a fire safe job, but she had called the meeting to test for support and agency interest, because she knew of a grant available for just such projects.

“It's a RAC [resource advisory committee] grant,” she said. “The U.S. Forest Service wants to fund trails like this to make the forest accessible to the public.” She said that had she seen enthusiasm among the attendees of the meeting, she might have been moved to write the application, the deadline for which was only days away. Only seven people showed. She began to dread the task without support.

City manager Jim Lindley, contacted later in his office, revealed that a grant application was already underway. He said he had toured the route to Mossbrae Falls, along with UP master of terminal operations Buck Grochol and city councilor Mario Rubino. “We saw a lot of people out there,” he said. “It’s a very clear problem.”

Lindley said that a grant writer already on a $1,000 retainer for city and Parks and Recreation projects had come across potential funds for a trail from Hedge Creek to Mossbrae Falls. He said the application was due the end of October 2010 and the funds could become available as soon as January next year.

“Everyone will be involved,” he said. “The city, county, Parks and Rec, St. Germain and UP.”

Grochol said UP had noticed the increase in foot traffic on the tracks recently and had looked into where the public was getting the information. “We found the Chamber of Commerce had been providing directions. It was on their website.”

A visit to the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce website Sunday revealed no specific directions, but assured visitors they could inquire for the information, which would be given with safety tips. Googling “mossbrae hike” yielded 47,500 hits, many describing a walk on live railroad tracks.

Chamber of Commerce president Barbara Cross said that she was not aware of any requests to direct people away from the Mossbrae route, but that the Chamber had adopted the policy themselves after they heard about the developing crowded conditions on the tracks.

“We only give directions when asked,” she said. “We try to steer most people to Hedge Creek.”

She said that she, herself, had been caught in uncomfortable places on the tracks to Mossbrae. “I think there should be a better, safer way to Mossbrae Falls,” she said. “Right now, it’s not  safe.”

Lindley had nailed it down a little harder declaring, “It's only a matter of time before someone is injured or killed.”

At a town hall meeting in council chambers last Wednesday, Dunsmuir Fire Safe board secretary Karen Bradley points to a location for a possible fire safe project that would open a pedestrian/bicycle path from Soda Creek to south Dunsmuir, and reduce fuel in a high-risk ignition area between the freeway and the railroad.