Blue Point Mine restoration progress in Smartsville
By Shamaya Sutton
Prospect, June 2022
Those who recently attended Pioneer Day in Smartsville and took advantage of its wagon tours, got to witness the incredible reclamation efforts that have been going on at the Blue Point mining area of Sucker‘s Flat. Once a desolate quarry, this historic site is now teeming with life and has been incorporated into a greater system of protected lands.
The Blue Point Mine diggins is a close neighbor to the Black Swan Preserve, both of which fell victim to large hydraulic mining operations during the California Gold Rush.
Hydraulic miners used high–powered water cannons, or hoses, to blast into hills and mountains throughout the Central Valley. This method effectively dislodged the sediments and formed a “slurry” which was then funneled into a series of sluices to extract gold and direct waste into the river.
Not only did this style of mining devastate the local land, it dis rupted life for farmers downstream and nearly wiped out the salmon who used portions of the river for spawning. So much sediment was dumped into the water that it raised the riverbeds, making it difficult for boats to navigate and flooding towns along the shoreline. Farmers and disgruntled residents protested so much that in 1884 the courts banned hydraulic mining.
However, Blue Point Mine continued to operate until World War Il by using a variety of creative methods to work the rich gravels and prevent most of the sediment from entering the Yuba River
The area continued its quarry operations up until 2002 through permits issued by Yuba County. In 2006, property owners finally decided the true value of this land was in its historic, scenic, and ecological significance.
“The more I got involved with it, the more I realized how much had happened there,” said Brian Bisnett, a land developer who catalyzed the area‘s reclamation process. “The tremendous story that the land had to tell, between its natural resources and then figuring out the mining history of the area. ... It just blew me away.”
Bisnett was originally asked to design plans for 100 houses to be built on the property, but he ended up becoming a co–owner instead and then took things in a different direction.
“The partners I had at the time were operating the quarry and wanted to develop the land, and I‘m a land–use planner, so they hired me to come up with some plans for it,” explained Bisnett. “I realized what a precious area it was and tried to convince them to pursue a conservation agenda for the land.”
Eventually, the other two partners dropped out, saddling Bisnett with the sole responsibility for managing the property and coming up with a salvation plan.
“I like to say I took it on as a two–year project about 18 years ago.” laughed Bisnett.
Bisnett got the land under an “option to buy” contract and then worked to bring the Trust for Public Lands on board and subsequently the Bear Yuba and Trust and the California Department of Fish and
In addition, 11 20–acre properties known as the Excelsior Ranches were created on the hill between Black Swan and Blue Point. So far, eight of those 11 properties have been sold and Bisnett said the new owners consider them selves “stewards of the open space” with most joining the land trust to help maintain trails.
These efforts have protected a large portion of the land, but until recently the Blue Point property remained a challenge. Bisnett worked to restore the old mining area to be in compliance with California‘s Surface Mining and Reclama tion Act. For over a century, the quarry had been nothing more than rock and sand. The first thing needed was a layer of topsoil, and luckily Nevada County was looking for ways to recycle its green waste. Bisnett struck a deal with them and soon truckloads of green waste were being toted onto the site where it was mixed with the sand and gravel already present. Next came hydroseed ing which helped stabilize the ground and reintroduced grass, shrubs, and wildflower back onto the property. Bis nett said the Office of Mining Reclama tion called it the finest reclamation effort they‘d ever seen.
“It was kinda nice to spend some of this energy and actually restore the land rather than tear it down as the hydraulic miners did so effectively for so many years,” said Bisnett. “And to see that val ley bloom for the first time in the spring was tremendously gratifying.”
The Yuba Water Agency recently took over the Blue Point area and Rogers Tyner, using the sites to access the Yuba River and restore salmon spawning grounds. Bisnett thinks this area of the river has strong potential for the salmon, but removing the cobble deposits that were left over from the mining will be a long and tedious journey.
“Fish and Wildlife have done a real investment with the properties they purchased from us,” said Bisnett proudly. “And now with the work the water agency is doing right below that, I think there‘s a real vision to restore the river all the way down from Englebright dam.”
Bisnett also suggested that if the old Daguerre dam comes down in Marysville, which was built to hold back debris from hydraulic mining, the salmon
would be able to travel even more freely
and kayakers could ride the river from Blue Point to Marysville,
“These things take time,” said Bisnett. “There‘s a lot of land, there are a lot of different ownerships, it was complicated. ... But at the end of the day to have 15,000 acres permanently protected makes it seem, at least in retrospect, to be well worthwhile.”
With the acquisition and protection of these lands, Bisnett said there‘s now opportunity to connect existing trails all the way around from Smartville to the Excelsior property and the Black Swan conservation area.
“The trails are essentially in place,” said Bisnett. “We‘ll just need to work out management of the trails with the water agency. But basically those areas connect and it really creates a fantastic interlinked trail system.”
Bisnett has documented much of the area‘s historical significance along with key mining remnants that have been left over. He hopes to implement his knowledge through a series of placards on a proposed trail that would help the public to better understand and appriciate the area that much more.
“It would be a tremendous trail that would follow some of the old historic ditch lines, and instead of being a small loop it could be a large loop that could take you through a tremendous amount of history” added Bisnett.
Plans to open the Blue Point area and extend trails for public use are still a ways off. But Bisnett is hopeful and excited and aims to share his passion for the land with the public.
“To be good citizens and stewards of the land, we have to understand what we‘re on and where we came from,” said Bisnett. “And there‘s really a tre mendous amount of connectivity that‘s on the verge of happening. I think it‘s going to really create one of the great open space areas in the central part of the state.”
To learn more about the work Bisnett has done in restoring Blue Point Mine and the surrounding areas, visit excelsiorproject.com/place/blue–point mine and bisnettdesign.com/project/ blue–point–mine–reclamation–of–a–historic quarry.