Is Honey Run losing its sweetness?
For anyone who enjoys winding country lanes, Honey Run Road is one of the best in Butte County. For most of its first four or five miles, from the Skyway to the historic Covered Bridge, it parallels Butte Creek, offering a gorgeous entrance into one of the most stunningly beautiful foothills canyons in the Sierra Nevada. Then it passes the bridge, heading toward Paradise, and the word “winding” no long suffices to describe what the road does.
“Twisting” is more like it. Or “corkscrewing.” Either way, about a mile above the bridge, Honey Run becomes a hellacious series of switchbacks on a road that is wide enough for two cars in only a few places. Higher up, close to Paradise, the views back down the canyon are spectacular, but getting there is slow going—15 mph tops.
Truth is, the road wasn’t built for cars. Back in the 1880s, when it was put in by pickaxe-wielding crews so canyon residents could travel to Paradise, it was plenty wide enough for a horse and buggy. Put a couple of Ford Excursions on there, though, and you’ve got a traffic jam—never mind a fire truck.
That’s one reason why some people are proposing that the twisty part of the road be made one-way going up—that, or close the road altogether to vehicular traffic.
Those ideas were the subjects of a lively discussion at a recent special session of the Paradise Town Council.
At issue were three matters: the rampant illegal dumping that occurs on upper Honey Run; teenagers’ late-night partying and graffiti-placing (though that’s done mostly with colored chalk on the road itself and washes off in the rain); and whether the road is fundamentally safe.
“We recommend closing the road,” said Paradise Fire Chief Mark Haunschild. “Honey Run is a mid-slope road that’s dangerous for firefighters. It’s not a road to be used in evacuation.”
Haunschild noted that the road is so narrow (only 11 feet wide in many places) that a fire engine must commit to the entire 4.5-mile trip either up or down because it can’t change course.
Haunschild also said wildfires were too unpredictable for Paradise residents to use as a dedicated escape route in the case of an emergency on the Ridge. “There’s nowhere to pull to the side in case of flats or engine failure,” he explained. “Cars would be backed up quickly, with nowhere to go.”
Paradise Police Chief Gerald Carrigan was also unenthusiastic about turning it into a one-way road. “We’d like to remain proactive,” he stated. “On a one-way, up-only road, the Police Department would be forced to use lights in checking on nighttime disturbances, which defeats our purposes.”
Nor was shutting down the road a viable option, said Mike Crump, the director of Butte County’s Public Works Department. “Once you gate it,” he said, “it’s no longer a public road"—and therefore not subject to public maintenance. In such a situation, keeping the road viable, whether for emergencies or as a park of some sorts, is problematic.
Altogether, some 22 people spoke before the council, and not one of them supported the one-way idea. They wanted either to leave the road the way it is or close it altogether to vehicles, leaving it open for pedestrians and bicyclists to enjoy.
They did mention a number of problems with the road. Illegal dumping alarmed one participant, who was concerned about Butte Creek Canyon’s watershed and the successful salmon runs in the creek. And Paradise residents at Honey View Terrace complained about the graffiti and gunfire at all hours of the night. No one saw an uphill-only road as a solution to those problems.
Even Chuck Horning, who is heir to the 600-acre Horning Ranch that abuts most of upper Honey Run and has tried—unsuccessfully—to curb illegal dumping on his property, came down in favor of keeping the road open.
“Right now,” he said, “upper Honey Run has a culture all its own as a safe place to go if you want to do illegal activities. We don’t need to close the road; we just need to change the culture.”
Then he turned to the public officials present and said, “Thanks for being interested in a hand-dug road.”