The Gentle Pace of Life in McCloud
By Jon Lewis
The Call of the MountainJuly 2015
Story and photos by Jon Lewis
Old-timers say the mountain chooses you.
That’s what Cindy Miller’s been told, and she says it holds true in her case. “People will come up and visit and they might not come back, while others will do everything they can to get back. Like us.”
Miller, her husband, Charlie, and their two children left Mendocino County three years ago to make McCloud their home. “It’s just a nice small town and it’s very inviting. People are very inviting and open and supportive,” she says. “It’s a simpler life and it’s absolutely beautiful. Things are slower; you don’t have to worry about kids riding their bike to the park or home from school.”
The mountain and its calm and reassuring presence called to the Millers, but so did the gentle pace of life, the constant scent of pine in the fresh air and the blue, effervescent waters of the nearby McCloud River.
The mountain called to Aubrey Remley 11 years ago and she answered by bringing her brood—a husband and four kids—to McCloud. She now operates the popular White
Mountain Café. Her thoughts on life in McCloud: “It’s the most wonderful place I’ve ever lived.”
Although California’s persistent drought has curtailed downhill skiing at the Mt. Shasta Ski Park for the past two winters, the mountain continues to be the dominant attraction in the area, drawing climbers, hikers and back country skiers throughout the year.
The river, with its nationwide reputation as a blue-ribbon trout stream and easily accessed waterfalls, is another big draw, as is McCloud Reservoir and the friendly nine-hole McCloud Golf Course.
McCloud is a mill town in the classic mold, and its streets and buildings reflect that heritage, from the rows of former company homes to the beautiful timbers and bountiful wood used in the shops, hotels and inns.
Its history dates back to 1829, when a group of Hudson Bay Company trappers, under the direction of Alexander McLeod, made its way through the area. They were believed to be the first non-indigenous visitors.
A few of them homesteaded, including Joaquin Miller, the so-called “Poet of the Sierras” who went on to live a life of considerable acclaim as a poet and frontiersman. The first mill was erected in McCloud in 1892, but it failed due to the inability of oxen to haul lumber over the hills to population centers. The town of McCloud was formally established in 1897 when George Scott and William VanArsdale— founders of the McCloud River Railroad Co.—purchased a group of small mills and started using their railroad to transport the finished lumber.
The new McCloud River Lumber Company owned the town and all of its homes. If you didn’t work at the mill, you couldn’t live in McCloud, according to Paul Reichow’s “AllThingsShasta”
blog. The homes were steam-heated and electricity was furnished by the mill, which came to be known as Ma McCloud.
Those halcyon days ended in 1963 when U.S. Plywood purchased the mill, the railroad and the town. Homes were sold to their occupants for $5,000 apiece. After merging with Champion Plywood, the company struggled to keep the mill viable and finally closed it in 1979. P&M Cedar Products acquired the mill in 1980 and operated it until 2002.
The mill closing and the loss of good jobs was a blow to the community and it forced several families to relocate. Losing even a few folks will leave a mark on a town of about 1,200 residents.
Darlene Mathis, vice president of the McCloud Chamber of Commerce and proprietor of the McCloud Mercantile Hotel, remains positive about the town she has called home since 2000. “It’s a great place to raise a child,” she says, noting how her son, Tanner, flourished at McCloud’s elementary and middle schools. “I think kids become a little more independent growing up here. They can walk, ride their bikes—it’s an old-fashioned way to grow up.”
Robin Hickman, a third-generation McCloud resident, appreciates thesense of community. “We take care of each other. If somebody is in trouble,you pitch in. That’s how we are,” says the owner of the McCloud Beauty Shop.
She points with pride to the community-wide response in April when an 86-year-old woman got lost while walking her dog in the nearby woods and spent five nights in below-freezing temperatures before a search crew found her.
“No one would want their grandmother lost,” says Hickman, a mother of three. “When they found her alive, this whole town was abuzz. But that’s the way this town is. If anybody needs anything, people step in. I hope we never lose that.”
Hickman, like Mathis, shares the hope that industry will again find its way to McCloud and they’re encouraged by the efforts of Bruce Berlinger and his McCloud Partners investment group, who purchased the mill property and are planning to build a boutique water bottling plant and create other uses for the site.
New jobs will bring new families to McCloud and help offset the growing population of retirees and second-home owners who use the town as a stepping-off point for fishing and other outdoor adventures, Hickman says.
Aubrey Remley also would like to see an influx of younger people, but she’s not exactly worried any newcomers would change McCloud’s tranquil nature. As it is, “it’s so quiet, you can hear a bear breathe,” she says with a smile.
Patric and Susan Brush, who moved to McCloud fiveyears ago to be near the fishing and the mountain, recently created their own industry with the opening of Siskiyou Brew Works. The microbrewery and pizza restaurant is tucked into the iconic Red Barn building adjacent to Dance Country RV Park.
The retired log scaler, who learned about craft brewing while stationed in Germany, makes a point to spend a part of each day in the woods. His wife, who runs a hair salon, appreciates the close-knit community she refers to as a diamond in the rough.