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Mills Peak Trail after construction. All photos: Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

What started in 2007 as a dream to construct a 9-mile multi-use singletrack trail with 3,000 vertical feet of elevation came to its full realization on January 16, 2018, when the final 1.7 miles of singletrack on Mills Peak Trail in Graeagle, CA was completed. It was a final build that bypassed an unpopular jeep road that interrupted the flowing singletrack experience of this now widely popular trail. This 11-year project was an enduring partnership between the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS), numerous public agencies, including Plumas National Forest – Beckwourth Ranger District and Eastern Plumas Recreation District, Ibis Cycles, many volunteers, and local supporters.

Mills Peak Trail before construction

Building a trail to provide world-class recreation opportunities that can help save an economically struggling region is not an easy task. Numerous complicated grant applications to state and federal funding sources were turned down, forcing SBTS to get creative. The most innovative was the $5 Bucks a Foot campaign, raffling off a brand new mountain bike to one lucky winner. Through two different $5 Bucks A Foot campaigns with Ibis Cycles, the giveaway raised more than $100,000 for the construction of Mills Peak. This fundraising idea SBTS pioneered was so successful that it’s become a model used by other trail building organizations across the country.

Ibis Cycles helped fundraise more than $100,000 for the construction of Mills Peak Trail.

While having money enables construction, the work can’t get done without blood, sweat and tears – all of which were shed building Mills Peak thanks to an army of volunteers, many of which are Lost Sierra locals. Whether battling through walls of manzanita, using winch lines and hoists to move giant rocks for trail bed armoring, or walking the trail each season with a chainsaw to clear downed trees, hundreds of people have played a part in the construction and maintenance of Mills Peak.

Volunteers put in the finishing touches on the final 1.7 miles of Mills Peak Trail.

“What most people don’t realize is that ninety percent of a trail building effort takes place before construction even starts,” said Ron Heard, a Clio resident who’s been instrumental in creating Mills Peak Trail, volunteering hundreds of hours on the project. “It took years to get this new 1.7-mile reroute approved and only a few months to build it.”

Along with Trails for Recreation and Community (TRAC), an eastern Plumas County trail advocacy and public outreach group, SBTS engaged the local community as well as folks as far away as Reno and the Bay Area to volunteer time and effort on Mills Peak. But the going was almost never easy.

Trail Boss Henry O’Donnell uses “Old Wobbly” in a particularly rocky section of Mills Peak Trail.

The creation of Mills Peak tested mettle and resolve, breaking off many hand tools and pushing the limits of motorized equipment. “Old Wobbly” – the trusty SBTS trail dozer that’s built 80 miles of singletrack and maintained 800 miles of existing trail since 2010 – even met its match on Mills Peak. Thanks to the frozen ground and massive rocks that needed to be moved while constructing the final section of trail, Old Wobbly lost a limb, its steel arm snapping clean off, hanging only by its hydraulic hoses. Thankfully custom bicycle frame builder Cameron Falconer of Quincy stepped in to help, using his welding expertise to put Old Wobbly back together, enabling the completion of Mills Peak before the snow really started flying.

“The process of fundraising, designing, constructing, and maintaining Mills Peak Trail has been an educational workshop for us,” said Greg Williams, SBTS Executive Director. “Having gone through the process, we now want to share our experience and knowledge with trail organizations, community leaders, and land managers in hopes we can inspire others to help revive the mountain way of living through recreation.”

Massive rock walls and moss-coated pines are abundant on Mills Peak Trail

This ribbon of singletrack providing fun, beauty, and enjoyment, drawing international recognition and visitors, was a true community effort, bringing much-needed tourism dollars to the economy of Plumas County. Mills Peak Trail is proof that a motivated and organized group of folks who want to do something good for the future of their community can persevere, no matter how deep or challenging the digging gets.

The public is invited to join SBTS on May 18, 2018 for a Mills Peak Trail volunteer workday, putting the finishing touches on the trail tread as well as having an official grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony. More information about our volunteer Trail Daze workdays can be found at sierratrails.org.

Riders of all ages and skill levels can enjoy Mills Peak Trail

About the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) was formed in 2003 as a volunteer-driven, 501c3 non-profit organization whose primary goal is building a sustainable, recreation-focused future for mountain communities, fostering stewardship of public lands through job creation, education, habitat protection, trail maintenance, and construction of new multi-use trails. With the support of a strong volunteer base, we have contributed thousands of hours and extensive fundraising efforts towards trail maintenance, restoration, and new construction in Downieville, Graeagle, Quincy, and the rest of the Lost Sierra. Our bike shop, Yuba Expeditions, has been welcoming mountain bikers to the region for more than 25 years. All proceeds from SBTS festival event races and the bike shop go directly toward trails in the Lost Sierra. Visit sierratrails.org to learn more about volunteering for trail work, becoming a member, and supporting our events.

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