Janie Sheppard: What’s Happening at Lake Mendocino (with Video)?

Mendocino County

On Memorial Day, Bill, the dogs, and I set out to take pictures of the beautiful wildflowers along the Lake Mendocino eastside trails.  Indeed, our cameras captured a profusion of white, blue and yellow wildflowers.  As we hiked we could not, however, ignore the signs of impending trouble.

First, we noticed that the trails were being damaged by truck traffic.  Signs at the locked trailhead gate prohibit all motorized vehicles.  So, what’s going on?  Apparently, Corps of Engineers personnel are not heeding their own rules as they drive pickup trucks through the mud.  It’s high time that the Corps fix this damage.  As you can see from the pictures, the damage is substantial in some places.  If not repaired, the beautiful trails will become eroded and impassable.

Second, we noticed that horseback riders are using the trails when they shouldn’t.  Horses’ hooves leave big holes in the trails, just about the right size for ankle twisting.  The horseback riders too need to repair the trail sections damaged by their horses.

Third, we noticed surprisingly few mountain bike tracks.  Most mountain bike riders appear to understand when they should not ride on the trails they so value.

And, after three drought years, the lake is full.  But is it too full?  As our pictures show, some trails are under water and some trees are standing in water.  Oak trees especially cannot stand to be in water.  They will die.

The lake is man-made, created by construction of an earthen dam.  An impermeable layer extends to within 10 feet of the present water level.  Above that, there is nothing but compacted earth to hold back the water.  A breach above the impermeable layer could very easily spell disaster not only for the lake but for the residents below the dam.  The farmers who depend on lake water would be devastated if the dam were to breach.  The Corps says it’s monitoring the dam with special care, but I wonder if we would be better off with a lower lake; more water conservation and fewer worries.

The wildflowers are out in all their glory…