Forest Service workers, preparing for summer recreation in the Carson Ranger District, say historic sites are being damaged by people who many not even be aware of the destruction they're causing.
This week, workers toured a site in Kings Canyon where off-road motorcyclists have damaged a tract of land by using it as a jump course. A circular track has been ground into the soil, creating a culvert in a historic area.
"Our charge is to take care of this land, and the people who come riding up here don't even know they are damaging a historic structure," said Jim Edge, off-highway vehicle manager Jim Edge. "One of the reasons we are so sensitive about Kings Canyon is that it is a historic roadway.
"This is one of five homesites still up here," he said. The site survived the harrowing floods of 1997.
The area, referred to by Forest Service workers as Griffith Grove, lies just above a meadow at the end of the paved section of Kings Canyon Road. Workers noticed the damage while on patrol in the area. Unless otherwise posted, motorized vehicles are prohibited off designated paths, Edge said.
Workers have installed signs around the track, reminding motorcycle, ATV and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts of the off-road restrictions.
"The rainwater will just channel down the ruts and make them deeper," he said, referring to the track. "We will have to breech the flow of water with rolling dips."
The estimated cost for repair the area is $500 to $700, but potential permanent damage is what worries Forest Service archeologist Terry Birk.
"The motorcycles are destroying vegetation that is part of the area's context and matrix," he said. "This is a very fragile area."
Edge said two full-time and one half-time patroller will be assigned to the Carson Ranger District when warmer weather increases the number of people venturing into the woods. The district covers almost 100 miles from north of Highway 395 in Sparks through Carson Valley. Patrollers have the authority to ticket illegal riders.
Officials are soliciting comments from wilderness users about damage and fire-related dangers. Wild fires can be started by motorcycles that are not equipped with government-mandated spark arrestors.
"Somebody without the proper spark arrester could set this whole area off," Forest Service spokesman Steve Hale said. "The fringe area near population areas is most susceptible to fires."
Kings Canyon residents Maud Naroll and Nancy Grundy were also on hand to talk with the Forest Service personnel.
"People talk to me and say 'Wow, what a piece of history,'" Naroll said. The protected land is less than a mile from her home. Grundy has lived in the canyon for 32 years.
People who come across damaged Forest Service land are asked to call the district office at 882-2766.