Greenville resident Ken Donnell wants Plumas County to start visualizing a different type of tourism — and to see the potential of old roadways and routes a little differently, too.
Imagine what would happen if Plumas County became an equestrian and non-motorized vehicle destination? Imagine if old, nearly deserted routes into the county and throughout the county became used and busy once more?
It doesn’t seem far-fetched to Donnell. Take existing trails and revamp them. Encourage the use of those routes by non-motorized vehicles — horse-drawn buggies, bicyclists and horses. Build infrastructure and businesses that support this new but old return to a different type of tourism.
“We have thousands of miles of logging roads and other roads with potential,” Donnell said.
It’s a dream that Donnell is convinced has potential here — and he has his first two ideal routes in mind: La Porte Road, and then Bucks Lake Road.
What if there were organized events and four-day trips from counties down below to Plumas County? A return to a different way of life?
Donnell has been interested in seeing Northern California have continuous connected non-motorized trails and routes for over 25 years. Originally, he worked with the Grange to be a proponent of the trails, but two years ago as the Grange organization splintered, he became part of the California Guild.
The California Guild has been working with State Senator Ben Allen to “secure passage of Resolution SJR-8 calling for the creation of a California Trails Master Plan to someday expand the many separate non-motorized trails across California into a unified and seamless network of trails crisscrossing the state, in both urban and rural regions,” according to Donnell.
Resolution SJR-8 began in Taylorsville at the Historic Taylorsville Hall (formerly Grange Hall) and quickly received additional support from California Guilds in Quincy, Chico and Portola.
The Upper Feather River Trails Project — as it is now named — “envisions bringing many tourists from around the world into Plumas County using a network of non-motorized trails for hiking, bicycling, equestrians and horse drawn vehicles,” said Donnell.
He sees potential for tourists to leave their RVs behind — a mode of camping that he feels does not contribute much economically to the county — and instead rely on camping, restaurants and other such businesses involved in tourism.
Instead of driving to start one’s vacation in Plumas County, Donnell sees the potential of the journey becoming part of the experience, resulting in a “recreation and transportation experience that has a zero carbon footprint within Plumas County.”
He acknowledges that he and fellow volunteers have decades of work ahead of them to see their vision realized, but he is hopeful that the potential and support are already here.
He points to the annual horse and buggy ride in Genesee that brings travelers up for a weekend of idyllic riding in a pastoral setting. Tourists come from all over the Sierra and Bay Area for that event.
He sees potential in partnering with Feather River College through both the Outdoor Recreation program and Equine Studies.
His plan involves the need for “small aid and service stations” along the old routes: bed and breakfasts, bicycle repair and gear shops. He envisions fuller campgrounds and equine boarding facilities. He sees the non-motorized trails as a way to jump-start the Plumas County economy — even if it’s a slow and steady process rather than an immediate start.
Plumas County already, of course, has a system of trails — not all however are connected. He aims to change that in close cooperation with “Caltrans, the Forest Service, business leaders and other stakeholders.”
For Donnell it’s about a return to an historic frontier lifestyle. “It is the first step of a long and fascinating journey, but every great journey begins with a first step,” said Donnell.
Donnell’s focus, along with other volunteers, is in education and networking support for the idea. A 501-c3 nonprofit, The California Trails Education Project, has been formed in Chico.
A third conference of the California Trails Master Plan Project will take place at the Elk Grove Guild Hall in Elk Grove on Saturday, Jan. 6, to specifically address and discuss issues relating to equestrian trails and horse drawn vehicle use, hiking and cycling trails in the Northern California region.
Donnell is quick to remind that the project is not about ownership — but of education and ideas, and one day in the future a California connected by trails without disruption. He said he is looking for champions for the cause; he’s looking for enthusiasts to take the reins.
California Guild members have begun contacting possible interested agencies and business owners in Plumas County and hope readers will be interested in joining the non-motorized bandwagon.