Despite utility’s ‘no trespass’ signs, flume near Bass Lake attracts plenty of hikers

PG&E has posted “no trespassing” signs to discourage hikers from using steel walkways on top of its Browns Ditch flume near Bass Lake.
PG&E has posted “no trespassing” signs to discourage hikers from using steel walkways on top of its Browns Ditch flume near Bass Lake. Special to The Bee

An old water flume near the south end of Bass Lake is the private property of the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., and it’s posted in places with “no trespassing” signs. But that’s doing little to discourage hikers from walking the dirt path along the flume – or from the steel catwalks atop the structure.

Browns Ditch is so popular with hikers that it’s listed on an array of hiking and trail websites as an easy-to-navigate route through the Sierra National Forest near Bass Lake. But PG&E doesn’t want people walking on the trail or the flume. “The safety of the public and our employees is our top priority,” said Denny Boyles, a spokesman for the utility. “That’s why PG&E has been raising public awareness that walking along flumes is not only dangerous, it is also not allowed and should not be done.”

The trail’s popularity is a nuisance for the utility. “It’s listed on so many websites,” he said. “But it’s private property and dangerous.  “The reason we posted the signs is to keep people off the flume.”

Flume trail
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. says its Browns Ditch flume near Bass Lake is private property and posted with “no trespassing” signs, but it is nonetheless popular with hikers. Tim Sheehan tsheehan@fresnobee.com

After The Fresno Bee posted a video online Sunday showing people hiking the path and the flume, PG&E asked for the video to be removed “to protect the public” and avoid encouraging hikers.

Browns Ditch Trail is rated with four out of five stars and ranks No. 12 out of 70 trails in the Sierra National Forest reviewed on the website Alltrails. And USA Today’s online travel tips section notes that while Browns Ditch “is not an official path,” the trail is described as “well traveled and easy to follow” with “open views of the valley below the lake.”

On his website GreenGoPost, founder Leon Kaye of Fresno noted in May that the “the signs say ‘No trespassing,’ but that did not seem to stop us and others traipsing along this trail.”

“There are two pieces of the trail; one is basically the dirt on the side of the canal, and the other is a couple of places where the flume is held over the land by a bridge,” said Marc Sobel, who manages the website BassLakeCa and lists Browns Ditch among trails near the lake. “I know PG&E says its private property, but I think there’s some question about whether it is really private property or is it an easement over public forest lands.”

Sobel said that “People do like to hike it because it’s cut through the forest and it’s easy. If they (PG&E) have signs that say ‘No trespassing,’ so be. It’s narrow in places and you can get yourself in trouble; you need to pay attention so you don’t fall in, but it’s not surrounded by any fence or security. It’s just a place in the forest.”

For its part, PG&E has been increasing the number of signs it has posted at its flumes locally and in other areas. “Flumes can be dangerous because they have no handrails and are often along steep cliffs,” Boyles said. “That is exactly why we post signage to stay off. The flume catwalks are only for trained and authorized utility workers.”

PG&E acknowledged that some areas it owns around reservoirs have campgrounds and boat ramps, “it is important to remember that the flumes are not for recreation,” Boyles said.