American Whitewater Wins Fight For New Hiking Trail on North Fork Feather (CA)!

Published 3/4/2022  |  American Whitewater

American Whitewater’s commitment to enhancing opportunities to enjoy our rivers extends beyond the water, and we’re thrilled to announce that we just secured the construction of a riverside hiking trail along the Poe Run of the North Fork Feather River in California. Once constructed, river lovers will be able to hike for three miles along the river in a section of canyon that is away from Highway 70, which runs parallel to most of the North Fork Feather.

 

We already succeeded in gaining new, scheduled whitewater boating releases for this run, and the trail will offer an additional way to enjoy the river canyon even when whitewater releases are not taking place. We anticipate that the first scheduled releases will occur in the fall of 2022. The timeline for completion of the Poe Hiking Trail has not yet been determined.

A trail sounds simple, but we had to fight for several years to have its construction added as a requirement to the new license for the Poe Hydroelectric Project owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Not only did we advocate for the trail during the relicensing process that began in 2000, but we also had to challenge the new license that was issued in 2018 because it omitted the trail requirement. We won that battle in 2019, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) added the trail as a required mitigation for the hydroelectric project’s impact to river-related recreation.

 

But PG&E resisted, claiming that it wasn’t feasible to build a trail, not because it’s impossible, but because they didn’t want to pay for it out of their hydropower profits. We fought back with a level-headed analysis of the trail’s feasibility and by rallying local, state, and federal agencies to weigh in with strong support for the trail. Still, there was the distinct possibility that FERC would side with PG&E and let them off the hook for building the trail.

 

To show FERC that building the trail was, in fact, feasible, we needed to show that the construction of the Poe Hiking Trail was actually just the reconstruction of an abandoned trail from the gold mining era—this was key to proving that its costs would be significantly lower than PG&E claimed. To do this, we used the same technology that the National Geographic Society uses to discover ancient Mayan villages buried beneath jungle. Using bare earth LiDAR data and GIS analysis, we accurately located and mapped the abandoned mining trail even where it was covered by thick vegetation (see our interactive trail map and comments). PG&E could no longer claim that the old trail did not exist, and their inflated cost estimate began to look even more suspect.

On February 28, 2022, just two weeks after we submitted our trail map and comments to FERC, the agency ruled that construction of the trail was feasible despite PG&E’s claims and ordered the utility to begin planning its construction. FERC also ordered PG&E to consult with American Whitewater and our trail advocate partners on its final route. Soon, it will be time to go boating on the Poe Run and to take a hike along the river on the new Poe Hiking Trail!

 

Scott Harding

E-mail: scott@americanwhitewater.org

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