Downieville was hanging on by a thread in the late 1990s. It was a stark change from the heyday of the California gold rush, in which miners from all over flocked to claim the area’s riches. At one point the bustling community was even a contender for California's state capital. But as the gold dwindled, so went the miners. By the late 1990s, Downieville was home to a mere 300 people and on the brink of fading away. That was until a new set of miners came into town. With their eyes set on dirt, not gold, this group of ragtag mountain bikers saw the potential in the area’s incredible terrain and many pre-existing trails. With a van, a chainsaw, and a few maxed-out credit cards these scrappy individuals breathed new life into Downieville and established a new model for other struggling mountain communities to follow.
Many of the area's trails were first built by gold miners which make for some rowdy mountain biking. Ken Etzel Photo.
Dirt Magic, a short film by Teton Gravity Research and Freehub Magazine, follows Downieville’s incredible transformation and the characters who helped make it happen. Be sure to also check out Freehub’s digital feature, Time Machines, which explores the area a bit deeper.
The trails around Downieville see around 200,000 riders per year—so they need all the love they can get. Paris Gore Photo.