Angels Camp is a little city with a big — and good — idea.

The city is about to turn its face to Angels Creek, a year-round waterway beside the historic downtown. Construction will soon begin on a 1.5 mile trail mostly along the creek from Tryon Park to Highway 49.

It is a tried and true development tool. Enhance your physical assets.

So many small communities for years have not seen the value of their streams and rivers. Many were polluted by industry upstream; others were full of warehouses and other industrial types of uses; their value overlooked and abused.

But as downtowns across the nation have been resurrected, often it is because someone stopped and noticed a local waterway with a vision of what could be.

That was the case in Angels Camp when a group met at the city fire station to talk about the general plan. Someone simply said it would be great to make the creek a centerpiece.

It’s been a long time coming, this trail in Angels Camp. Thirteen years and counting. At the end of 2021, when the first phase is expected to be completed, there are plans for the trail to go all the way to New Melones, several miles downstream.

Money, as with all local government ambitious plans, has held the project back. But some dedicated leaders managed to get nearly $1.4 million from Caltrans with a promise of $830,000 more through 2023.

The project has several unwavering advocates including Melissa Eads, who is finishing up her first year as city administrator, and Debbie Ponte, the executive director of Destination Angels Camp.

For Eads, a Calaveras County native, the creek brings back summer childhood days tubing. It is a memory so precious she recently introduced her son and his friends to the joy of downtown ice cream and tubing on the creek.

Trails provide more than a place to walk or bike. They enhance the quality of life, which is a key requirement for any business looking to locate in a community. Good business leaders want to be sure their employees will be happy in and outside of work.

Angels Camp, however, faces a significant hurdle as city leaders attempt to make downtown a lively place. Three families own a significant amount of property and none seem in any hurry to make use of their buildings.

Ponte said all storefronts except those owned by the families are in use. A quick drive on Highway 49 through Angels Camp shows the importance of those buildings. There are so many vacant spots.

One of those properties is the Utica Hotel, a project whose rebirth has been predicted for years. It is a 25,000-square-foot structure that is little more than a shell, despite ongoing restoration.

Despite an apparent well meaning owner and project manager, it remains a drag on the downtown economy.

Santa Clara County contractor Pero Margaretic bought the 1930s-era hotel in 2015 and has worked on it when other development projects did not require his attention.

The first order of business was a cocktail lounge in the basement, expected in late 2017. Nothing yet. Mary Ann Margaretic, Pero’s wife, told The Union Democrat earlier this year they’re still excited about the prospect of a revitalized hotel, but she warned “it would take a while.” The bar, she predicted would open by the end of 2018. Next phase she said will be a restaurant.

But the problem, just as with the other out-of-town owners of vacant buildings in Angels Camp, is simply this little Gold Rush town is not a priority.

Back in 2015, Pero Margaretic told The Union Democrat. “I want to make something nice; trying my best to.”

Downtown revitalization, as Eads knows, requires a strong and unyielding public-private partnership. The city is stepping up with the trail. It’s time for the private sector to do its part.

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