This was the headline in the Sacramento Bee for July 14, 2004. Coming as it did a week before the 52nd annual Jeepers Jamboree on the Rubicon, it hit the four-wheeling community especially hard. Once again, the fight is on to keep one of the country's premier 4x4 trails open. But the fight is also on to keep it clean.
The Rubicon trail has survived more than 52 years of regular use, due largely to its remote location and the harsh trail environment. Groups such as Jeepers Jamboree, Jeep Jamboree USA, and the Toyota Land Cruiser Association (TLCA) have consistently fought to maintain access to the trail. It has been viewed as a right of passage for four-wheelers and a hallmark of the off-road community. The events that have been held there have been largely well organized, and trail impact has been closely monitored. Over the years, 'wheelers were taught the importance of keeping the trail clean and in good repair.
Now, after years of attacks by environmental groups seeking to close the Rubicon to vehicular access, the four-wheeling community is faced with a partial closure of the trail. Given that government bureaucracies are often loathe to give up what they've gained, this could all too easily become the first step toward ultimately closing the trail for good. It may not be a popular stand to take, but the truth of the matter is that we have no one to blame but ourselves.
During the past few years, the Rubicon Trail has become a popular place to party on the weekends, and Spider Lake, in particular, has been a hot spot. Around the lake and along certain parts of the trail, you can find cigarette butts, bottle caps, picnic leftovers, and, increasingly, human excrement everywhere. Over Memorial Day weekend, more than 1,000 rigs were encamped around Spider Lake, and by the time everyone departed on Monday, toilet paper dotted the shoreline and the rocks around the lake. The stench was simply indescribable. And this is what finally led to the closure of Spider Lake - sanitation issues so extreme it was considered a danger to public health. So much for the natural beauty of the Sierras.
Adding to the sanitation problem is the blatant disregard being shown for the private property abutting the trail. The line separating the trail from private land has been virtually transparent for decades because the owners wanted to show their support for the four-wheeling community and ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy the beauty of the Rubicon. No longer. Trash has been dumped and sections of the properties virtually deforested by people in search of wood for campfires. Now, signs have been posted declaring the private property off-limits, and the Sheriff's Department has been empowered to cite people for trespassing and vandalism.
Friends of the Rubicon scheduled an emergency cleanup in early August in an attempt to reverse the damage done to both the trail and to the credibility of the four-wheeling community, and they had a great turn-out. However, trail patrols by Friends of the Rubicon are becoming more frequent, as is the presence of local law enforcement, because people apparently refuse to act responsibly. The El Dorado County Sheriff OHV team has a new Jeep Cherokee that it's using for hauling people out, and the team's presence is likely to increase in the coming year. You can keep up with the latest developments at www.friendsoftherubicon.com.
Will any of this help mitigate the temporary closure of Spider? Or what we hope is temporary? It's certainly a step in the right direction, but ultimately, the only thing that will save the Rubicon and other trails around the country is the commitment of individual four-wheelers to take pride in the trails they use and a refusal to allow these areas to become a public dumping ground.