Last week, the 5th graders went on their annual camping trip. We went to Malakoff State Historic Park up near Nevada City. This park used to be the site of a huge hydraulic mining operation back in the 1850s that was eventually forced to close.
While at Malakoff, we went on hikes in our groups and played team-building games. We had the chance to participate in campfires and stargazing. We discussed water and the importance of protecting it as well as our environment, and we saw a first hand example of the effect that humans can have on their landscape.
We also learned about the history of the park. The miners who started the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company started using hydraulic mining to find the gold trapped in the wooded terrain of the area. With large pipes called monitors, they blasted away huge chunks of the rock using high-pressure water. Unfortunately, this mining came with the price of large amounts of mud, water, and silt flowing downhill to towns, farms, and even the Bay. Streets and houses were flooded and filled with mud, farms couldn't operate, and the Bay turned brown.
Eventually, the farmers in the Sacramento Valley, along with other "lowlanders," were fed up and decided to take the North Bloomfield Gravel Mining Company to court. In 1884, the first landmark environmental court decision, the Sawyer Decision, was made. The Sawyer Decision stated that it was illegal to do any sort of mining that would have so much by-product. It stated that the livelihood of many was being destroyed so a few could become successful from the mining operation. To this day, there is still much gold beneath this state park, but no one can mine it without breaking the law!
While hiking in the Diggins, the former hydraulic mining site, we looked for crystals amongst the gravel and went in one of the tunnels used by the miners. On our last day, we learned more about the effects of the mining and visited the ghost town of North Bloomfield.
Over the next several weeks, we will continue to discuss the impact that humans can have on our environment, and the importance of being good stewards of the Earth. In addition, we will use the court case and the Sawyer Decision to better understand the three branches of the US Government, specifically the Judicial Branch.
It was a fantastic three-day trip with beautiful, sunny weather and fun adventures! Since we've been back, it's been great to have time to discuss our experiences together in class, and I look forward to discussing the history we learned more in depth as the year continues.