Karie Lew first walked the Dragoon Gulch Trail in 2016 when she moved to Sonora from the Bay Area. She was mesmerized by the arch of the manzanita brush tunnel and the view of downtown nestled into the foothills, she said.

Lew, 42, petitioned the community for three years on a volunteer program that would continue the Dragoon Gulch Trail expansion project farther onto the 102 acre property owned by the city.

“I fell in love with Sonora the first time I came. It's a small town, and you have the opportunity to make a difference in a small community,” she said. “Dragoon Gulch is so accessible but it gives you this sense of peace and solitude, so those are things that draw me out there.”

Her plan to bring Volunteers for Outdoor California (V-O-Cal), a nonprofit organization that provides a volunteer workforce for trail construction projects, was approved by the Sonora City Council on Tuesday night.

“I was absolutely charmed by it, and I learned about the Master Trails Plan. I thought wait a second, I have a group that does trails,” she said. “I’m so thrilled I could marry those two things.”

The project is anticipated to add approximately a mile of single-track trail that would connect to the existing trail network.

Lew said Community Development Director Rachelle Kellogg was working to determine where an additional loop would be added to the spider web of trails, located west of Alpine Lane in Sonora.

Kellogg could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

A 1.5-mile winding extension was added to the original 2.5 mile trail about a year ago.

The extension was constructed by a Stanislaus National Forest Summit Ranger District Trail Crew, Baseline Conservation Camp and community volunteers.

In February 2018, plans were discussed to add a portion of trail with a 5-percent slope that would travel farther west of the existing trail. The original trail was built with the help of a $500,000 state grant between 2006 and 2007 on 35 acres of oak woodland.

An additional 67 acres, purchased by the city in 2004, is the site of proposed development in the Master Trail Plan to extend Dragoon Gulch north to Racetrack Road and west to Redbud Road.

New developments are expected to add a parking lot, restrooms and a new trailhead. Between 75 and 100 people use the trail per day, according to city estimates.

Tyler Summersett, senior transportation planner and trail coordinator with the Tuolumne County Transportation Council, said the county was supportive.
“There's currently an incredible trail network there that serves a broad base of users, but making these more dynamic single-track trails will draw more users and appeal to community members and tourists in the area,” he said. “The fact that's it's being done by volunteer efforts is huge and is in lockstep with the approach that the Tuolumne Trails Program is advocating for.”
V-O-Cal provides tools, crew leaders and a legion of volunteers for trail maintenance projects throughout the Bay Area and the surrounding region.

It would be the organization’s first trip to Sonora, Lew said.

“I was just blown away but what amazing people they are and how effective they are at coordinating huge number of people to volunteer,” she said.

Approximately 80 to 100 volunteers are expected to camp overnight in Woods Creek Rotary Park from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13 as a part of the project.

Lew added she hopes the city would develop contingency trail plans if the V-O-Cal group was so efficient that they finished their mile project before the end of their weekend stay.
“You don't want to waste that when you pull together all these volunteers. I want us to have a plan in place so at least we have an idea of what we could do.”
Lew said the group was excited to break ground on a new trail as opposed to maintaining one. The group will use hand tools such as pick mattocks, Pulaskis, loppers, saws and rock bars to remove brush, trees and even rocks ingrained in the dirt.

The crew leaders would be experienced professionals in trail construction and city oversight would provide guidance for aesthetics, Lew said.

The event required special approval by the City Council to allow tent camping and to allow limited alcohol consumption. A brewing company typically donates a keg of beer to V-O-Cal for the projects, according to city documents.

“People kind of kick back and have a beer after all of the hard work,” she said.

The city will also provide portable toilets, hand washing stations and trash receptacles.

Lew said she would be at the Dragoon Gulch Run on Sunday morning, providing fliers for the participants.

“It's such a great audience to reach out to,” she said.

Lew said volunteers or inquiries about the project could be directed to dragoongulchtrailproject@gmail.com .

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.