The Elk Creek Nature Trail lies at the eastern end of 2nd Street, where asphalt gives way to gravel, terminating at a small parking lot with a picnic bench. But many don’t know it exists.

Armed with a pair of loppers on Tuesday, Rory McDonald cut his way through Himalayan blackberry and reed canary grass, ducked under red alder and willow branches and dodged bear scat with his dog Addie and Dan Burgess in tow.

Burgess pointed out remnants of the old Hobbs-Wall & Co. lumber mill including an old railroad trestle and the concrete slabs the mill sat on. The interpretive signs and kiosks built by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in the 1980s still exist, though many are so rusted they’re barely legible. Further down the trail, gaps in the trees revealed a pond with black-crowned night herons, kingfishers and other birds.

“It’s an intact coastal wetland habitat and it’s right here in the community,” Burgess said, adding much of the land alongside Elk Creek is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Just like they have the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, this is another coastal wetland area and then (in) Elk Creek, the fish value is amazing. It’s so close to the ocean... there’s salmon that spawn (here).”

On Saturday, Burgess, McDonald and other volunteers will venture down the Elk Creek Nature Trail to clean up beer bottles, grocery bags, cardboard boxes and other debris. The nature trail will be one of several local areas that volunteers will focus on as part of the 2018 California Coastal Cleanup.

The Smith River Alliance is orchestrating the Saturday cleanup with help from a variety of local businesses and organizations including the Surfrider Foundation and Take a Bite Out of Blight. The California Coastal Cleanup is funded through the Whale Tail Coastal Protection License Plate program.

Burgess, who’s part of the alliance’s Elk Creek Stewardship Project, said even though volunteers cleaned the area last year, he’s hoping Saturday’s efforts will increase public awareness about the trail itself.

Over the years there has been “waves of interest” in maintaining the trail, Burgess said. He showed pictures of members of the California Conservation Corps building footbridges for the trail in 1988. Students with a natural resources class at College of the Redwoods would build bridges large enough for tractors to maintain the vegetation, he said. Recently, however, the area has become a magnet for illegal camping and dumping, Burgess said.

Burgess said he’s hoping more public awareness of the trail’s existence will lead to sustainability in efforts to maintain it.

“The trail was built with the intention of public awareness and I think what happened over time it was ignored, it was sketchy and it was forgotten,” he said. “Without public awareness, things are forgotten, sometimes agencies don’t pay attention.”

According to Frank Kemp, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Elk Creek Nature Trail is a day-use area that’s open to the public, but there’s “minimal accommodation” in that area. Hunting and fishing are prohibited in that area, he said.

“The big challenge for the last several years is the use by transients to camp and dump garbage and waste,” Kemp said. “That is an ongoing challenge as far as the upkeep and maintenance (of the trail) goes.”

The Elk Creek Nature Trail goes through a coastal wetland and coastal grassland, Kemp said. There are also riparian areas alongside Elk Creek. Kemp said the area alongside Elk Creek and U.S. 101 in the southern part of Crescent City is a patchwork of private land and land managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Increasing public awareness about the trail itself could be a deterrent to the illegal camping and dumping that occurs in that area, Kemp said.

“And then maybe it would also be a benefit to the tourism and the local community,” he said. “It would give people another reason to spend more time in Crescent City and around Crescent City as opposed to driving right on through.”

The 2018 California Coastal Cleanup will be held on Saturday. Volunteers will meet at 9 a.m. at the Kids Town parking lot in Beachfront Park. For more information and to RSVP, call Burgess at 707-954-3569 or email daniel.burgess@parks.ca.gov .

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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