Connecting Communities in the Lost Sierra

By Emily Compton

Man riding bike on the Sierra TrailsIt is likely you have recently seen the new “Connected Communities” map on social media channels or outside of a local business. The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship’s Connected Communities Project is a 600-plus-mile route connecting 15 mountain communities spanning 6 counties and 2 states. Although work for this project began in 2020, The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship has been making an impact in local communities for much longer.

The Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, formed in 2003 by Greg Williams, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the maintenance and enhancement of trail systems throughout the Lost Sierra region.

In 2021, the SBTS employed 72 part- and full-time employees (including youth in the summer) to lead and execute the organization’s mission to “build sustainable recreation-based communities through stewardship, job creation and world-class events” and “providing quality outdoor experiences through trail construction and maintenance in the Lost Sierra.” In addition to employees, volunteers are crucial to the work the SBTS does, with more than 100,000 hours of donated time by volunteers over the years.

The Connected Communities route is unique in that it allows for all dirt trail travelers including hikers, mountain bikers, moto rides, equestrians, trail runners, hunters, fisherman and wildlife.

The towns along the trail include Jonesville, Chester, Westwood, Susanville, Greenville, Taylorsville, Quincy, Graeagle, Portola, Downieville, Sierra City, Sierraville, Loyalton, Truckee and Reno, and it will go through Lassen, Plumas, Tahoe and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests, along with Bureau of Land Management, and private property crossings will be minimal.

There are 4 phases to the project, with estimated completion in 2030. Right now, the SBTS is in Phase 1: Planning. The Planning Phase has been the most time intensive as it requires infrastructure planning, approvals from outside organizations, input from community members and local organizations and feasibility studies. Once complete, the project will move onto Phase 2: Environmental Review. This phase is anticipated to begin in 2025. However, the SBTS was able to begin construction of routes and infrastructure this year on parts of the trail that have completed the necessary planning and environmental reviews.

One of the pillars of the SBTS’ mission is to support local communities and economies, and the Connected Communities project does just that. The Connected Communities project not only provides a one-of-a-kind trail through beautiful country, but it also taps into the outdoor recreation industry that keeps growing.

The project is estimated to created 150 construction jobs through the construction phase, including different positions and will help to drive the existing tourism season outside of the typical Memorial Day to Labor Day season.

The SBTS has a few key events that help raise funds to support the organization including the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder around Lake Davis near Portola, California, and the Downieville Classic Mountain Bike Festival in Downieville, California. The Gravel Grinder provides fun and entertainment even for those not participating in the race with food, drinks and live music in the Portola City Park after the race.

This race will take place June 3, 2023. With more than 20 years under its belt, the Downieville Downhill is the SBTS’ longest-running race and is considered one of the top Mountain Bike Festivals by Outside Magazine. In Downieville, main street is shut down after the race for riders and others to enjoy food and live music. The Downhill will be back in 2023 but does not have an official race date as of this publication. For more information, visit the Sierra Trails website.

There are multiple ways to get involved with the Trail Stewardship: join the SBTS family by becoming a Friend of the Trail Stewardship with a donation to one of their trail projects; sponsor a trail through the Adopt-A-Trail Program, which provides a way for businesses and individuals to take leadership roles in trail maintenance; or donate your time by working with the SBTS on trail maintenance projects.

For more information, visit the Sierra Trails website or email Sierra Trails.