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News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 301

Rails to Trails Festival 2007 attracts a thousand

For the 15th year, Lassen County residents and visitors flocked to the Susanville Trailhead of the Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail for the three-day Rails to Trails Festival held Friday through Sunday, Sept. 28-30. This small-town event is an autumn festival, but with a twist: the clicketyclack sounds of railroad handcar racing.

Organizers at the Lassen Land and Trails Trust estimated about 1,000 people turned out at the trailhead and Susanville Railroad Depot Visitor Center. In addition to the rare sights and sounds of side-by-side handcar racing, they were treated to an opening evening hobo stew dinner and bluegrass music, a craft show, chili cook off, a day of live music, mountain bike rides, and time to enjoy the company of friends.

Handcar races, which hint at the railroading past of the Susanville Depot, pit teams against one another for trophies and bragging rights. Below, the Bureau of Land Management's trailhead caboose is the backdrop at the start line, where muscular "pushers" get the 850-pound cars started as the four pumpers get them up to speed. Spectators provide enthusiasm at the finish line, second photo below, as winners celebrate success on their way to a second of two heat races, third photo below.

Two handcar teams strain to get going at the start of the race
Handcar teams hit the finish line
Winners! in the handcar races

Between races there is plenty of time for a little shopping, below, as local crafters present their jewelry and other wares

Jewelry vendor

An always, the chili cookoff provides a challenge for the cooks and a tasty afternoon for the participants, who this year sampled a dozen chili recipes including Latin Fusion four-bean chili, a version with spicy Basque chorizo sausage, traditional no-bean recipes, buffalo chili and a creation featuring venison and pork. Below a contestant carefully pours the first sample from her bubbling pot for the judges, second photo below.

A contestant carefully serves some of her chili
chili judges

Festival goers also had the chance to see their friends and neighbors perform. Below, Matt Sayles, the new executive director of the Lassen Land and Trails Trust, was among the crowd favorites. And recognizing that a festival would not be complete without a clown, Susanville resident "Sparkles" was there to provide balloon creations for the youngsters.

Musician Matt Sayles entertains the crowds

The festival celebrates the Bizz Johnson Trail, jointly managed by the BLM's Eagle Lake Field Office and the Lassen National Forest. Once a rail line that brought timber to local mills and finished lumber to the national markets, the Bizz Johnson now is a 30-mile hiking, biking and jogging trail through a river canyon and forested mountains. The festival is held at the restored historic Susanville Depot, operated by the Lassen Land and Trails Trust in partnership with the BLM, Forest Service, City of Susanville and Lassen County Chamber of Commerce.

- Jeff Fontana, 9/30/07

BLM California News.bytes, issue 301

Last updated: 10-03-2007