MADERA COUNTY - The Lewis Creek Trail is one of the most popular ones in Central California-- Red Rock and Corlieus Falls are two big reasons why. But did you know within these trails lies scattered flumes built more than 130 years ago?
So what are flumes you ask? Flumes are an engineering marvel. Built in 1876 to help transport sawed boards from Sugar Pine Lumber Mill north of Oakhurst all the way down to the town of Madera.
People would float wood down these "V" shaped flumes that sat on wooden trestles as high as 60 feet above ground. Operations ceased in 1931 and since then flumes have been harder and harder to find over the years-- hard to find, but not impossible.
Alex Olow from the US Forest Service joined me on my search for flumes. We started from the middle trail head and headed north, crossed the creek using a log laid over the water and shortly after, bingo. We found a small piece of a flume built a century ago.
"Even though it's a small piece, it's still impressive. You have to try and visualize what it might have looked like going up and then going down," said Olow.
After spending a few minutes at the broken flumes to the north we back tracked and headed south-- roughly 10 minutes later we found even more.
Down at the creek we found more items that resembled what looked like things used more than a century ago. Like a steel pole in a rock, ropes, wooden pieces, and other items thought to have been used in and around flumes.
We found all of this in less than an hour of starting our hike.
If you simply do not have time to go on the trails and check out the remnants of the flumes for yourself, you can spend a few minutes in one of two places. Off of Highway 41 near Road 632 there are intact. You can check them out in their element.
Another place you can find a complete flume is at a few miles down the road in the town of Oakhurst-- the Fresno Flats Museum has one on display. The one there is in better condition and includes bundled wood that's stapled together.
There you can see what would have been sent down the mountain in old times.
"I don't honestly know how many people know that there was a flume that ran for 54 miles or more from the lumber mill down into Madera," said Olow.
Hidden history found on this hidden adventure.
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