Protect the Humboldt Trail

Two large-scale housing projects slated for both sides of Humboldt Road threaten to obliterate the lower part of the 140-year-old Humboldt Wagon Trail that runs parallel to Highway 32 and pave over the rest.

Built by Chico founder John Bidwell in the early 1860s, the trail connected Chico to the Honey Lake Area of Plumas County and in turn gave access to the silver mines of Nevada and Idaho. Wagon wheel ruts left in the lava cap under the trail are still visible. The property is also the site of one of the remaining rock walls that were built decades ago by laborers clearing the rock-strewn fields.

The residential development proposed to the north of the road, on the much-debated Humboldt Burn Dump property, is owned by Yuba City developer Tom Fogarty. It calls for 1,324 units comprised of various densities of single-family housing, apartments and condos, some commercial buildings and 87 acres of open space. The proposal to the south, by Drake Homes, is not as far along in the process but promises also to be a development of significant size and scope.

Fogarty’s project, slated to come before the Planning Commission on Jan. 20, calls for Humboldt Road to be reconstructed and relocated to the north at spots where it would otherwise conflict with the ruts and the rock wall. The General Plan lists Humboldt as both a “scenic road” because of its historic significance and “collector street” because of its proximity to future residential neighborhoods.

Critics say the old trail deserves more protection and its history more respect. We agree. Considering the controversy that has raged over this piece of land for the past decade, Fogarty could buy some much-needed community good will if he agreed to redesign his plans to better protect the trail and perhaps give up some of his project’s open space.

Fogarty sent a letter to the city in December asking for financial help to finish collecting and capping his property’s toxic soil, whose origins remain unclear. If Fogarty isn’t swayed by historic values, maybe the city could appeal to the builder’s bottom line and thereby encourage him to protect a bit of local history.