David Simcox Receives Grant to Pursue Tourism Rail Travel in Northeastern California

IBM computer lab
Skunk Train, California West #45 awaits
departure from Northspur returning to Fort Bragg.
(Photo contributed by John Johnson)
David Simcox, Department of Recreation and Parks Management, recently received a grant from the Rural Economic Recovery Program to develop a Tourism-Rail Resources Guide for use by individuals and groups in Northeastern California. Simcox, whose area is renewable natural resources studies and landscape architecture, is enthusiastic about the prospect of using existing but abandoned rail lines throughout Northeastern California to expand tourism.

Simcox's field of landscape architecture, which is the design and management of the landscape (in this case, the forest landscape) as a valuable natural resource, places him on the side of resource management that recognizes humans as part of the ecological system. Simcox believes that intrinsic factors such as human enjoyment of a natural resource must be taken into consideration when evaluating the cost and benefits of a particular resource management plan.

One of the cynical criticisms of Simcox's field of landscape architecture is that it is used by lumber companies and the Forest Service simply to hide from the public what is being done deeper in the forest. On the contrary, says Simcox, "During a leave in 1993 which I spent working with the Forest Service, I found that they were serious about protecting the integrity and scenic quality of the landscape. They recognize that the forest as a sense of scenery is as important as a source of lumber."

Simcox explains that there are two ways we can value natural resources: (1) as a tangible commodity such as wood, water, fiber; or (2) as a non-commodity in its ability to provide recreation, tourism, and scenic beauty. "What I do is look at large-scale landscapes and their potential to provide economy through tourism," says Simcox, "and that is what led me to this rail project."

At a Cub Scout camp in the mountains a few years ago, a friend mentioned to Simcox the hundreds of miles throughout Northeastern California of unused railways, formerly used to transport lumber. Simcox's project to develop the Tourism-Rail Development Resources Guide would utilize such lines for tourism. Although there are many steps to go through before such a plan can become a reality, Simcox's guide will assist groups in taking the first steps. Part of his project is to hold meetings with citizens in rural towns, such as Mt. Shasta, Greenville, Portola, and Weaverville, to ascertain interest in such an endeavor and to give them what they need to get started.

"The beauty of such a project environmentally," says Simcox, "is that it is very low impact. Ideally, tourists would go to a point in the foothills to catch a train that would take them up into the Sierras. It would minimize the use of automobiles, while still putting people in the area." It will provide a "sustainable" kind of economic development that takes little from the environment and is self-perpetrating.

The two-year-old McCloud Railroad is an example of a "wildly successful" rail tourism business. They have been fully booked during tourist months and began doing dinner runs during the summer. Other successful railroad based tourism systems include the Fort Bragg-Ukiah Skunk Train, the Sacramento Train Museum, a museum in Portola, and a rail line in Yreka.

Simcox will have two graduate students working with him on the project and plans to begin meeting with citizen groups within a year.


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