Who will fix the road?

Local man laments the sorry state of Cohasset-area road

Using caution is an understatement while driving on Ponderosa Way, according to Doug Laurie. The Paradise man says the road leading to the Ishi Wilderness Area is filled with deep ruts and used for illegal dumping.

Using caution is an understatement while driving on Ponderosa Way, according to Doug Laurie. The Paradise man says the road leading to the Ishi Wilderness Area is filled with deep ruts and used for illegal dumping.

Photo By thomas lawrence

Doug Laurie just wants to hunt and fish at Deer Creek like he used to do with his father.

A resident of Paradise and native Chicoan, Laurie says that the harsh nature of the mountain road Ponderosa Way has made it much more difficult to hunt and fish as he’s always done. It’s nowhere near the place it was when he would spend weekends with his father in the wildnerness in the 1950s and ’60s.

An important gateway to the back country, Ponderosa Way has been left uncared for and damaged, especially from upper Cohasset to the entrance of the Ishi Wilderness Area, by neglect and pollution.

“It hasn’t been maintained in years,” Laurie said. “As you hit the Tehama County line, you run into deep ruts in the road. There are sections where the road is hollowed out with deep lake-like stretches of water that cover the road from edge to edge.”

Laurie said that he spoke to Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk about the issue, but she said there was nothing she could do about it, since most of the damage has occurred outside Butte County. Besides, she told him, the county has no money in the budget for road maintenance.

Kirk said in a phone interview that the road is not county owned, and that even she is not sure who currently holds ownership—the Bureau of Land Management or some other entity.

“The county does not take part in Ponderosa Way,” Kirk said. “It’s kind of sketchy as to who owns it. It’s not meant to be a road people use for pleasure.”

Cohasset Road in Chico turns into Ponderosa Way at the north end of the Cohasset community, about 25 miles northeast of Chico, at an elevation of about 3,500 feet, where the paved road turns to dirt. The road runs clear through to Highway 36 and runs along the top of the Ishi Wilderness.

Because of its location, Laurie worries for the safety of Cohasset residents.

“If there were a disaster in upper Cohasset, say from the Cohasset School on up … there’s no escape route,” he said. “That road needs to be maintained in excellent condition.”

For those who have enjoyed the Deer Creek and Ishi Wilderness areas for many years, the damage to Ponderosa Way couldn’t be more frustrating. In terms of pollution, there are tires, broken beer bottles, glass, and the like, even at the beginning of the rough stretch of road.

“You’ll see everything from microwave ovens, to TV sets, to computer screens,” Laurie said.

To add to the confusion about Ponderosa Way, which runs jaggedly north-south through much of the Sierra Nevada foothills country, is the mystery of its origin. While Laurie and many others believe it’s an old escape route from World War II—constructed in case the Japanese invaded California—there apparently is no direct proof of it.

Dr. Michael Brodhead, a historian with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, researched the subject and couldn’t find any evidence of a direct link between Ponderosa Way and the military.

“A search of several sources turned up no information suggesting that Ponderosa Way was built or developed as an escape route during World War II, I regret to report,” Brodhead said in an e-mail message.

Brodhead said he examined several official Army volumes of war history, research collections, and histories of California engineering without finding anything decisive.

Gary Ross, a unit chief from the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, outlined the only verifiable history of the road in a 1998 letter. He wrote that in 1934 the federal government had constructed a fuel break, with a truck trail, for approximately 700 miles along the west side of the Sierras—known as “the Ponderosa Truck Trail or Ponderosa Way.”

Regardless of the origin, the uncertainty regarding whose responsibility the road is and the dangers linger deep within the woods.

“It can be a dangerous area,” Laurie said. “The average person probably wouldn’t want to go in there.”

Neither Sierra Pacific Industries, which owns many sections of forest leading up to the Ishi Wilderness, nor supervisors from Tehama County could be reached for comment about Ponderosa Way, but until some entity takes control, the eyesore of this North State wilderness will remain.

“There’s no reason that the roadway should be in the shape it’s in,” Laurie said. “And the darn thing needs to be fixed.”