What to do when you have spent five years trying to stop a massive federal road project to no avail? Take a walk and say good bye to the gentle one lane curves, old growth forest, and northern spotted owl (NSO) habitat. That’s what members of my community did in semblance of a Maori custom to remember and honor the passing of an important place. As Hyampom, CA resident Marilyn Renaker described the event:
We are taking this opportunity to honor the beauty of the road, and also to honor the people who first built it. These days, the past is often bulldozed away without a second thought. We go on with what is newer, bigger, supposedly better. This road was the work of many people over many winters. With mules and horses laden with equipment, they made a path into a road. They had to blast and clean debris and when they finished in 1923, an era ended. Cars entered Hyampom for the first time and the Land of Trails disappeared. Many of us will miss this old road, just as we miss the hardiness of the people who built it. We will miss it’s beauty, it’s familiar twists and turns. We will miss how it made Hyampom seem special–a hard place to get to, but worth it for the wise.
The Hyampom Road is a 24-mile long, partially one lane road connecting this remote community of about 230 residents to the outside world. It is the only paved road into the valley that is maintained throughout the year. Residents agree that there are places on the road that need repair, but the federal government plans to turn this lonely road into a “forest highway”, increasing lane widths, blasting hillsides, logging old growth forests, creating fake wetlands to mitigate construction, etc. all in an effort to “improve forest access”. Meeting after meeting, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has stated that the road improvements are not for the citizens of Hyampom, and with Arnold speaking about building new dams, we can’t help but feel paranoid our wild and scenic river will succumb to the water needs of Southern California. At a projected cost of over $50 million (in 2007 dollars), the federal government will be spending almost $220,000 per Hyampom resident on the road. With the current rate of inflation and fuel costs, the total price will likely increase by $10 million, as the project will not be completed until 2015.
Five years is a long time to be fighting a project whose cost continues to rise at each meeting. The FHWA has produced a “Finding of No Significance” to the human or natural environment, despite four hour road closures without an official detour and logging of NSO, fisher, salmon, etc. old growth habitat. Many members of our community have felt insulted and not heard as we have voiced our concerns to the county and federal government. We have gained small victories along the way, including reducing the scope and size of the project, but the inevitable construction will occur. At one point, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors had rejected improvements upon the one lane section of the road, only to be muscled by the federal government and a petition by some residents into reconsidering their decision.
So, we say goodbye to a road that means a lot to us. Traveling along that one lane road surrounded by old trees and sheer cliffs is what attracted many of us to this area. It is a road that you have to respect and be gentle on its curves, as it does not lend itself to the hurried, fast paced life many of us left behind in order to live here. Progress always comes at a cost, and we fear one truly wild, unique place will be lost to road improvements.