In November, the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) presented its prestigious Challenge Award to Nevada County for its continued dedication to finding collaborative solutions for visitor safety and outdoor recreation.
The CSAC Challenge Awards are the state’s premier program, recognizing and elevating the most innovative programs among California’s 58 counties. The awards recognize California counties' innovative and creative spirit as they find new, effective, and cost-saving ways to provide programs and services to their citizens. This year, CSAC received 389 entries, of which a judging panel selected the top 14 to receive a 2023 Challenge Award.
Nevada County was chosen for showing a proven collaborative model of leadership, solutions, and investment in outdoor recreation management and visitor safety at high-use and high-risk destinations with the South Yuba River Public Safety Cohort, Outdoor Visitor Safety Fund and the Recreation Board Objective established by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to dedicate resources to these and related initiatives.
“Visitor safety and management is a critical concern for rural communities in California,” explains Erika Seward, Sr. Administrative Analyst in the Nevada County Community Development Agency. “This award acknowledges the many community partners in Nevada County working together to advocate, share resources, coordinate messaging and develop projects that address impacts to our rivers, lakes, trails and open spaces that improve safety and the outdoor experience for all to enjoy.” “Congratulations to the hardworking 2023 Challenge Award recipients. Counties create, implement, and operate the most essential community services – often with little to no recognition. Thank you for your dedication to improving your community,” said Graham Knaus, chief executive officer of the California State Association of Counties.
Overview of the Award-Winning Program
Rural Nevada County offers an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. Residents and tourists are drawn to the natural beauty, rural quality of life, and access to rivers, lakes, trails, and open spaces.
In recent years, a dramatic increase in visitors has strained local resources, creating environmental and safety issues at popular outdoor destinations. There are now over 800,000 annual visitors to the South Yuba River and 2.1 million to surrounding Tahoe National Forest lands. Visitors have been lost or injured in river canyons; excessive trash, human, and pet waste litters once untouched places; and illegal parking and traffic congestion make roadways dangerous and difficult to navigate. Accelerating climate impacts (e.g., extreme weather, wildfire) have increased hazards and the critical need to intercept and educate visitors on safety, preparedness, and responsible recreation.
Six years ago, the South Yuba River Public Safety Cohort (“Cohort”) was established to identify and implement solutions to emerging and long-term challenges. Monthly meetings, facilitated by County Staff, provide a forum for discussion, tracking data and trends, project and program development, and coordination between the multi-stakeholder working group of public land agencies (Bureau of Land Management, California State Parks, U.S. Forest Service), CAL FIRE, local and regional fire districts, law enforcement, non-governmental organizations, and community representatives.
The Cohort addresses issues like access, parking, fire prevention, emergency response, waste mitigation, visitor education, and sustainable recreation. Successful efforts have included installing callboxes and signage, securing portable toilets and waste collection, supporting trail and river ambassadors, increasing parking fines and enforcement, and distributing life jackets, maps, and safety information. An eastern Nevada County collaborative called Convene, Champion, and Catalyze (“CCC”) is similarly modeled after the Cohort and was formed with a focus on Donner Summit and Truckee.
In 2022, the Cohort catalyzed the adoption of Recreation as a Board of Supervisors Objective with a specific initiative to promote health and safety at river crossings, trailheads, and other high-use or high-risk outdoor recreation areas.
The Objective was extended into 2023. As a result, over $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act and General Fund dollars were dedicated to (1) increase River and Trail Ambassadors; (2) install new kiosks, trash receptacles and contactless water stations at the South Yuba River State Park; (3) secure additional roadside message signs, toilets, and callboxes; (4) develop 39-miles of trail markers and safety signage along the Yuba River corridor; and (5) create public safety videos and materials.
The County established the Outdoor Visitor Safety Fund grant program for non-profits, special districts, and businesses to expand capacity and infrastructure; 17 projects and programs were funded that also leveraged over $3 million in match funding from other sources.
The Sierra Nevada Conservancy awarded $200,000 for Nevada County to develop a Recreation & Resiliency Master Plan to further identify projects and funding to address visitor safety and the outdoor recreation system. Both the CCC and Cohort focused on coordinated messaging to intercept visitors before arriving at outdoor destinations.
The Cohort launched a campaign prior to Memorial Day with a river rescue demonstration and press event to reinforce “Stay Out, Stay Alive” messaging and unsafe river conditions. A weekly travel alert was launched on the Go Nevada County tourism site, with material distributed by businesses, lodging, and events. Roadside message boards in English and Spanish alerted visitors of hazardous conditions.
Visit www.counties.org/challenge-awards for additional information about the 2023 CSAC Challenge Award-winning programs.
Learn more about recreation and the South Yuba River Public Safety Cohort in Nevada County at www.nevadacountyca.gov/recreation