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How We Saved the Rubicon Trail – The Untold Story How We Saved the Rubicon Trail – The Untold Story
In 2001, they were going to gate (that means CLOSE) the Rubicon Trail and we said NO! This is our story from the records... How We Saved the Rubicon Trail – The Untold Story

In 2001, they were going to gate (that means CLOSE) the Rubicon Trail and we said NO!

This is our story from the records and writings the author kept as founding Trail Boss since the beginning.

On our very first work day 2001. Mark Smith (RIP) on the left with his famous gray pony tail, probably the most well-known name in jeeping and certainly the Rubicon Trail. He was part of our effort from the beginning.

Yes, you might have heard the rumors about a gate on the Rubicon early in 2001.  Seems like a long time ago, now. But it was a serious then, and still something we fight against to this day.  We have saved the Rubicon Trail for motorized (and mechanized use) with hard work, sweat, tears and a few beers.  This is our story – the story of the Friends of the Rubicon.

Because of wet weather situations and spring snow melt on the trail, especially on the Placer County (Lake Tahoe) side of the trail, a gate was proposed to keep us off the Rubicon.

Most all the trail repairs and erosion control of those early days involved hauling rock to fill mud holes.

The Rubicon Trail is a majestic icon of four-wheeling located in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains running from near Georgetown east to Lake Tahoe.  The very spirit of our sport was born on this trail.  Used as a Native American trade route in the early days before white man settled, the Rubicon was a natural and easy route over the Sierra’s.  Then cattle and sheep were pushed over this route as the West became more settled.

Studebaker cars used the route in the 1920’s.  Tourists came in droves to drink of the healing, soda springs located on the trail.  Fishing was popular as was just plain vacationing in the hotel built at Rubicon Soda Springs.  Eventually, erosion and time played their part so that today, we have the 10 of 10 rated trails – the Rubicon!

In late 2000 and early 2001, we were told that the water run off from a section of the Rubicon during winter months was purportedly contributing to the siltation of Lily and Miller Lakes as well as McKinney Creek, within the Lake Tahoe Basin.  Some agencies felt that this siltation might eventually affect Lake Tahoe itself – one of the last “blue” lakes.  Siltation turns a blue lake green.  We didn’t want that – whether true or not about the Rubicon being part of the issue.

Many agencies and groups were discussing mitigation measures, which included the gate idea. We had to fix the road drainage situation and ensure that runoff went where it was supposed to go or we were likely to have some imposed restrictions or even closures on the trail.  We said no gate!

FOTR Meeting typically held the office of the California 4Wheel Drive Association (Cal4wheel).  It took a ton of meetings to pull off all the planning and coordination.

Nearly overnight we formed Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR), an informal coalition of clubs, individuals and commercial operators banded together for one purpose – to keep the Rubicon alive and well and open to us all – forever.  FOTR was formed mostly via the Internet and email. When several of us heard about the gate idea that was being proposed, and the emails started to fly.  You “gotta love the Internet!” was the author’s favorite saying at that time.

As an active landuse advocate and email guru myself, I was in on the ground floor.  Many folks started to email me about the possible closure and what we could do about it.  The California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (CA4WDC) and (at the time when it was still viable) BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) were quickly in the foray, as were many individual clubs such as the Tahoe Hi-Lo’s who’ve adopted part of the trail.

Additionally, the Pirates of the Rubicon were some of the first to hear about the proposed gate and began spreading the word via their web page (  Overnight there were a hundred of us emailing back and forth about what to do.

Using email and phone calls, the author became the founding Trail Boss for the Friends of the Rubicon by general agreement of everyone who was involved at the time and on calls and emails.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board (Lahontan Region) issued Placer County a Notice of Violation (CDO No. 6-94-20), which meant a Cease and Desist Order, on December 1, 2000.  Placer County was subject to severe fines if they did not repair the Rubicon/McKinney section of the trail.

Lack of maintenance to the trail during the 1990’s was part of the reason the erosion was as bad as it was.  According to the Lahontan Regional Board, storm water runoff containing significant quantities of waste earthen materials was being discharged from the roadway to McKinney Creek and its tributaries.  It had to be fixed.

The first thing we did was to get the support of the great folks at Off-Road.Com ( to give us a space on their web hosting pages for an email network.  We needed a way to communicate about the Rubicon issues.  Yours truly became the moderator by default.  Later, most of our communicating migrated to

Stacie Albright and unknown kid helper loading rock trailers on the Rubicon Trail (spillway) for trail repairs.

We immediately started getting folks signed up on the email list and began developing our strategies.

FOTR immediately put together a planning team, a complete organization, held a few meetings, and developed some long-term courses of action.  Being the only person that could devote nearly full time to this effort, I by default lead the way and started to make things happen post haste.


The author borrowed the Incident Command System (ICS) from the fire and police, added “Recreational” to it and did some simplifying to end up calling it the Recreational Incident Command System (RICS) for all FOTR work.

The County of Placer was already involved because the section of road in dispute (Miller Lake to McKinney staging area trail head) is maintained by the County.  Rebecca Bond, Associate Civil Engineer, and Sharon Boswell, Junior Civil Engineer, from the Department of Public Works Engineering Division became our County contacts.  They became very key players.  In fact, Rebecca ended up being our field commander helping to lead the volunteers to victory!

Several other agencies had an interest in this project.  Among them were the League to Save Lake Tahoe; the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency; the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board; and the USDA Forest Service.

FOTR morning briefing example, this one with Bebe Theisen and Deborah Pulskamp; June 2008 work weekend. Using “RICS” every volunteer had a job; and every work weekend had a plan.

Rebecca and Sharon were right in the middle of a heated multi-agency project.  FOTR was right behind Rebecca and Sharon. We all stood together – probably the very key thing that helped FOTR get off the ground right and stay solid today.

Rebecca and Sharon quickly prepared a plan to restore the drainage features along the County roadway. There were 31 rolling dip/water bars that needed rebuilding, repairing or reconstruction, over the two-mile section of road.

Each, read that as yes, each rolling dip had to be individually engineered with blue prints and design specifications. Everything we did to that road had an engineered reason behind it.  The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board had to agree to these blue print plans before the County and FOTR could begin work.

FOTR Rubicon Trail Work Weekend with Jeepers Jamboree; unloading Jason Brown’s truck.  Notice on the left, Rusty Folena throwing rocks and filling the gabion netting.  Rusty is the 2018 Rubicon Trail Foundation (RTF) Rock Award winner.

Our plight started about March of 2001; and by August 2001, we were assembling volunteers from FOTR to put the plans to work on the ground.  In the meantime, starting in June of 2001, County Road Maintenance Crews were spending many man hours with heavy equipment, importing road fill, rebuilding water bars, pulling drainage ditches, hauling rock, and adding boulder barricades.

On the weekend of August 18-19, 2001, over 100 FOTR volunteers, county workers, agency officials, and a few by-standers showed up for a long, hard, work weekend.  The County operated their equipment, as well as rental equipment.  The owner of Lake Tahoe Adventures, Ari Makinen, even loaned his own front-end loader and operated it himself! We had earthmovers, dump trucks, front-end loaders, and shovels — lots of shovels.  Chow (steak dinner) was cooked on the big bbq trailer from Cal4wheel.

To really make this project special, the folks from the Jarbidge Shovel Brigade (the other famous road opened by volunteers a while back) sent 100 signed shovels to FOTR to help with the cause.  The volunteer worker who had used it to open Jarbidge had signed each shovel.  It was a very cool touch.

FOTR tackled the Rubicon Trail with their shovels, backs and sweat, just like they tackle a trail with their rig – all out.  Dirt was flying, rocks were moving, and folks were laughing.  It was a sight to behold.  For two full days we moved tons of rock and completed the majority of the water bar restoration work.

Hauling rocks (Tim Main) on the Rubicon Trail, Alligator Pit area.  Volunteers gave of themselves and their vehilces, over and over to save this trail.  It goes on to this day.


Saturday afternoon of the first workday, I found Richard and Gigi Yeargan from the Motherlode Rockcrawlers wiping the sweat off their foreheads, resting on their shovels, while swatting away the mosquitoes that are known to feast along the trail. “This is hard work, but what a great project,” Richard said. “I’m so impressed with all the equipment and cooperation we were able to muster for this,” he added.

After the work was done, Rebecca Bond had this to say: “I never would have believed we could gather so many great volunteers from so many different groups to complete this project in our time frames.  It was awesome!”

Rusty Folena, one of the FOTR organizers added; “now this is what I call cooperation.”  Lance Clifford, a member of the Pirates and owner of, was the PR/media person and he put it this way: “Everyone who uses the Rubicon will benefit from our work. I’m happy we call came together to make this happen.”

Thank goodness for caring businesses and partners like BFGoodrich Tires and their Outstanding Trails Program that eventually helped our trail many times, here with a grant to RTF.


FOTR and the Lake Tahoe Hi-Lo’s 4WD Club completed revegetation work on Saturday, September 15, to restore disturbed U.S. Forest Service land.  Throughout the summer, from June to October 2001, County Road Maintenance Crews completed the majority of the road repair work, putting the finishing touches on the concrete water crossings and rock surface protection to protect the road fill during October of 2001.

After the project was over, we totaled up over 2400 hours of volunteer time, using over 150 volunteers.  Literally tons of rock and cobble were moved by hand, wheelbarrow and truck to line the rolling dips.  Commercial vendors, volunteers, county workers, organized recreational clubs, and government agencies worked side by side in an incredible spirit of cooperation.

FOTR did amazing things like move the old water tender shack across the slabs to become the Loon Lake Kiosk.  Here the author thanks Dana Holland for his incredible talent with a wrecker, picking up and moving this old shack in one piece.


There were so many folks to thank.  To do it, I put up a web site dedicated to the Rubicon Trail.  All the donors and sponsors can be seen at FOTR’s home page:  Be sure to pay a visit.

The California State Parks OHV Division and OHV Commission were behind us 100%.

In 2002, Eldorado County, owners of the other half of the trail, is interested in talking to us about doing work on the rest of the Rubicon.  FOTR has already completed one work weekend wherein we repaired several mud holes in the Ellis Creek/Walker Hill area.  We also blocked off several illegal bypasses.  The enthusiasm and volunteer effort were significant: 300 volunteer work hours in one day.

Additionally, a new group, the Rubicon Oversight Committee (ROC) was formed within the management of El Dorado County, to manage the Rubicon into the future.  ROC is a dual county, multi-agency committee that includes users, government, environmental groups, Friends of the Rubicon, and the Rubicon Trail Foundation.  This committee will guide the repairs, improvements, maintenance and future of our precious Rubicon.

As of this writing in 2006 FOTR had logged in over 22,000 hours of back-breaking hard work saving the Rubicon Trail on over 20 major projects – way beyond just cleanups; we are saving and maintaining the Rubicon for future generations.

In the old days of Robbs Resort, FOTR and RTF had a lot of events and meetings and social gatherings in this mountain retreat. Classes and training were held there as well with the author's Volunteer & Land Stewardship (VLLS) Workshop.

Always a fun place to train, party and camp in the early days as pointed out by Stacie Albright, the author’s wife, four-wheeler and FOTR volunteer.

In the old days of Robbs Resort, FOTR and RTF had a lot of events and meetings and social gatherings in this mountain retreat. Classes and training were held there as well with the author’s Volunteer & Land Stewardship (VLLS) Workshop.

Saving the Rubicon has been a tremendous example of volunteers working with government to accomplish precedent-setting projects.  The Rubicon Trail is truly one of our crown jewels of recreation, and the groundwork is there to repeat this process on other trails we treasure.

If you’d like more information on the project or how to work with government; or would like to be included in the Friends of the Rubicon, just drop an email to  the current Trail Boss using [email protected] and we’ll get you involved.

Merlin Scott “Scotty” is our icon of a caring volunteer who lived on and patrolled and worked hard to help save this amazing trail.

You can donate to the cause by visiting our tax write-off Rubicon Trail Foundation at  Feel free to also visit my web site ( for more on land use, access and getting involved in keeping public lands open and responsibly enjoyed.



When the author did the IRS paperwork for the Rubicon Trail Foundation (RTF), we didn’t have anyone doing fancy graphics, so this was the early version of our first RTF logo.  The pic is of the “little” tree that sits on top of the Little Sluice, just above the old, big juniper that eventually fell over and is gone.

NOTE 2018:  RTF continues to raise money for the trail every year with “Cantina for the ‘Con” in the spillway, Labor Day weekend.   In the spring they throw a fund-raising party, Black Tie & Boots which also brings in money for the trail.  You can help with both these events, or just donate as you can.   Your volunteer strength is also welcomed at FOTR/RTF work weekends.  Visit for more and sign ups.


Side bar on First FOTR Project

Rubicon Trail work summary statistics *(Placer County side):

– Restore 27 water bars along 2 miles of unpaved road, including 2 concrete water crossings.

– Add 4 new water bars built by county road crew and FOTR volunteers.

– 30,000 CF of fill added to restore original road elevation.

– 1500 tons of rock added.

– Restored one seasonal stream crossing and diverted another seasonal stream back to original course.

– 1/4-acre disturbed forestland revegetated.

– 150 volunteers (FOTR) used.

– 2,340 volunteer hours, or more than 1 full time employee year.

– 3 days worth of donated 3YD 544 Loader + Operator.

– 100 shovels from Jarbridge road opening in Utah used by volunteers on this project.

Dennis Mayer (RIP) who passed in 2008. If anyone represents the spirit and blood it took to save the Rubicon Trail and help form both FOTR and RTF, it is Dennis. He gave so much; he is revered to this day.


If you would like to jump in, haul rocks, wield a shovel, do whatever, and be part of a winning team, drop an email to mailto:[email protected]

More links to the Rubicon Trail history, facts, rocks and more…

Untold story of the Rubicon and how we stopped a gate:

A Rubicon Trail primer to help you get ready:

Little known trail facts and Steve Morris tribute:

Jarbidge Shovel Brigade helps start Friends of the Rubicon (FOTR):


Del Albright Ambassador

Internationally published author; WorldWide ModernJeeper Abassador and 2014 Inductee of the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. Del has been involved in the Jeeping Lifestyle for longer then most of us can count. His educational and mentorship programs have helped developed warfighters in the ongoing battle to keep Public Lands Open to the Public.

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