Residents of Wonder Stump Road came to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 13 ready to argue their case to leave their road as is.
But the supervisors took the initiative to address rumors about the county altering the road even before the public-comment portion of the meeting. Board members said they each had fielded numerous calls from the community leading up to the meeting.
“Many callers insisted that the chainsaws were at the ready, and the trees were going to be cut down and the road widened right after today’s meeting,” said Bob Berkowitz, whose District 5 is near Wonder Stump Road but ends on the eastern edge of U.S. Highway 101.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Yet even after I insisted there were no plans to cut down the trees or widen the road, they had a difficult time accepting that this was the case.
“Sometimes, it’s easier for people to believe the rumors than the facts.”
Residents of Wonder Stump Road said their concerns were amplified after receiving a letter July 22 from the county’s Community Development Department. The letter sought community input regarding potential improvements to the nearly 2-mile stretch of Wonder Stump Road from Yonkers Bridge to U.S. Highway 101.
The letter outlined obstacles the county faced in maintaining the roadway, from an inability to use mechanized equipment to clear debris from existing ditches, to barriers for emergency service vehicles and school buses to access one-lane sections of the roadway.
The letter noted a period of public-input dates that would be used to compile a complete report on the road by June 30, 2020.
Council vice-chair Gerry Hemmingsen, whose District 4 includes Wonder Stump Road, said the county right now is only gathering information. “I can tell you there is no project,” said Hemmingsen. “We have not considered a project, nor any alternatives to a project.
“Nothing has come before this board to do anything with Wonder Stump Road,” he said.
Hemminsen said the board does not need to micromanage the Community Development Roads Division in its information-gathering efforts, and seemed frustrated the situation had evolved into conspiracy theories.
“And even though I talk to people, there’s this huge mistrust, for some reason. I’m being told, ‘That’s not true, they’ve already decided to cut the trees, that’s how we’re going to balance the budget.’
“Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s totally ridiculous to believe we’re going to go cut some trees so we can balance the budget. It just doesn’t make any sense.
“I don’t know how these rumors get started or (where they) come from. It gets tiresome, and it’s disappointing to me that in a few cases county personnel have been attacked verbally because of this mistrust. None of them should be accused of conspiracy or self-serving actions because of frustrations or emotions.”
Although Jim Coop, a resident of Wonder Stump Road for 30 years, said he was glad to hear the supervisors address the residents’ concerns at the beginning of the meeting, he proceeded to read his prepared comments during the public-input session.
Coop said he was not there as part of a group “freaking out” over something with no foundation for concern. Rather, he was at the meeting on behalf of a group of people “who deeply love, enjoy and respect the beauty of this place called Wonder Stump Road.
“We’ve had conversations on site with (county roads superintendent) Jeff Daniels,” said Coop, “and he enlightened us both on concerns, and about some possibilities his department may consider that would address their concerns.
“One of those possibilities, he has stated publicly, may include the removal of one or more redwood trees. That statement can be interpreted as the removal of as many trees as necessary by the roads department,” Coop said.
When Coop’s three minutes were up, Smith River resident Joni Forsht finished reading Coop’s letter into the public record, depicting the fate of Wonder Stump Road as both a regional and historical concern.
“But if it is later determined that some form of improvement is absolutely needed and is addressed right now, then we profoundly suggest that improvement be made without the removal of our trees,” said Forsht.
“This road represents an important part of the history of our community, a history that brought great economical growth from the timber industry. The Hobbs Wall Railroad created this road, and the three islands of the road can remind us of that.”
To project their concerns, the local residents created a Facebook page, “Save Wonderstump,” which now has more than 1,000 members.
In addition, former resident Daniel Russ, now living in Sparks, Nevada, initiated a petition urging the county to leave the road as is. That petition boasts more than 6,000 signatures from around the region and further afield.
Ilene Cooper told the supervisors the Wonder Stump neighborhood has every reason to be wary of what the roads department is doing, as suggested by what happened to a friend of hers who lives on Elk Valley Road.
“She woke up one morning and to her horror, these beautiful conifers that graced the front of her property were being chopped down without any notice whatsoever by the roads department,” Cooper said.
“If this community values keeping the roads slower, with hardly any traffic on that road, and it’s worth keeping a slower pace of life, and not having huge amounts of traffic, that’s the choice of the community.”
Charlene Storrr, of Tolowa descent, whose family has lived on Wonder Stump Road collectively for 119 years, added a calming voice to the meeting, recognizing the issue of change is universal.
“People love our rural country and want to come here, want to live here,” she said.
“Our community is no different than Los Angeles, San Francisco. It has the same issues with the homeless and the roads — there’s never enough money to maintain it up to our personal standards.
“This is our land and we need to take care of it, that’s a simple thing, so things don’t go bad with it.”
Supervisor Roger Gitlin, representing District 1, said those ongoing concerns indicate the county has a ways to go to communicate to its residents. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding in the air. With a clear and cogent process that is open, an honest credibility will come back into the picture,” he said.