A Wild Independence

Bear Yuba Land Trust proudly presents

A Wild Independence:
The Story of Nevada City’s Independence Trail

How naturalist John Olmsted inspired a community and turned an abandoned mining ditch in California’s Gold Country into the first wheelchair nature trail in the United States.

Written and Directed by Alden Olmsted
Produced by Bear Yuba Land Trust
Documentary Short, 28min, USA, 2021

Watch the Film

Film Synopsis

John Olmsted was a California naturalist, interested in a cross California nature trail that would both educate and display California’s unique ecological zones. On one of these hikes across California he came upon the abandoned Excelsior Mining ditch seven miles from the town of Nevada City, California, and decided to purchase the land.  He embarked on a multi-year challenge of repurposing the mining ditch as a nature trail in the wilderness, one that could specifically accommodate wheelchairs and people of all skill levels.

Following the Jones Fire in August 2020, the wooden flumes that form the Independence Trail were burned to near complete destruction and Bear Yuba Land Trust is working with California State Parks to rebuild the locally cherished trail.

“A Wild Independence” is told by Alden Olmsted, youngest son of John Olmsted, through amazing archival film footage, as well as by the very people who toiled and sweated right beside John and who share his vision, and who are committed anew to rebuild this one of a kind gem.

About the Independence Trail

The Independence Trail follows the route of the historic Excelsior Ditch. Started in 1855, the Excelsior Ditch was constructed by the Excelsior Canal Company serving as a water transport ditch for mining, and later irrigation, covering 35 miles and terminating at the South Yuba River. The ditch operated until it was abandoned in 1961. A portion of the ditch on land under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management was found eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. California State Parks and Bear Yuba Land Trust own the length of the Excelsior Ditch between Highway 49 to approximately 2 miles to the west and 2 miles to the east. The Independence Trail was developed by John Olmsted and his nonprofit Sequoya Challenge as a nature trail for wheelchair access during the 1970’s, including three miles of the Excelsior Ditch. Remnants of the ditch are still evident along the trail in the form of dirt line ditches, reconstructed wooden flumes and bridges, and rock walls. Most of the wooden flumes were rebuilt in the 1970s-80s and again after they burned during the 1988 “49er Fire”. In 2012, Bear Yuba Land Trust was entrusted with ownership of the 207-acre Sequoya Challenge Preserve in the South Yuba River canyon which consists of seven separate parcels interspersed with California State Parks land along both the east and west portions of the Independence Trail bisected by Highway 49. Ultimately, Bear Yuba Land Trust plans to transfer the parcels to State Parks to become part of the South Yuba River State Park.

How to Take Action

  • Sign up to host a third-party fundraiser
  • Screen the film

Where You Can See “A Wild Independence”

Online anytime

Wild & Scenic Film Festival, January 13-17, 2022,  www.wildandscenicfilmfestival.org

Oregon Documentary Film Festival, April 24, 2022, www.filmfestivalcircuit.com/oregon-documentary-film-festival



John Olmsted, Founder of Sequoyah Challenge and creator of the Independence Trail.  Creator Jug Handle SNR, Mendocino, land steward at Bridgeport, Yuba Powerhouse, Goat Mountain, trail advocate and creator of the Across California Trail

Ana Acton, Wheelchair activist and Deputy Director Community Access Division at California Department of Rehabilitation; Former Executive Director at FREED Center for Independent Living

Sally Cates, John Olmsted’s second wife, co-founder of the Independence Trail

Shelly Covert, Nisenan tribe member and Community Outreach Liaison, Executive Director California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project

Caleb Dardick, Projects administrator County of Nevada, former Executive Director SYRCL and son of Sam Dardick, Nevada County Supervisor and disability activist

Joe Day, Business owner and son of Joe Day, real estate agent  involved in land purchased for the Independence Trail

Matt Green, Former Sierra Gold Sector Superintendent, California State Parks

Rob Lee, Guitar luthier and handcrafts artist, met John Olmsted on Across California Hikes, early visitor to the Independence Trail

Hank Meals, Nevada County historian, writer and photographer

Gregg Schiffner, Nevada County filmmaker including Stories of The Yuba

Erin Tarr, Executive Director, Bear Yuba Land Trust

Mary Tendall, Local resident involved in large donation of time and resources to John Olmsted during Independence Trail construction


Writer & Director: Alden Olmsted

Producers: Jesse Locks and Bear Yuba Land Trust

Directors of Photography: Val Camp and Robert Bryant

Sound: Jason Searles

Editing: Matthew Gottshalk

Score: Danny Black

Graphics: Romero Alves

Poster Design: Gloss Co.

Production Assistant: Gaia Mae Searles

Download Poster

For more information contact Jorie Emory at jorie@bylt.org or 530.272.5994 x 213