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Welcome back to our new blog series, “Voices of Downieville,” where we embark on a journey to uncover the unique stories and perspectives of the vibrant individuals who call our picturesque riverside community home. In this series, we’ll delve into the lives of a diverse array of people, from lifelong locals to recent arrivals, capturing the essence of what makes our village enchanting through their eyes. Join us as we take a deep dive into the heart of our community through the voices of those who know it best.

In this second installment of the series, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sharon Ranzoni, who moved to Downieville in 2020, for an insightful conversation. We met afterhours at Cold Rush Café. The air was electric as Sharon was bubbling with enthusiasm for the interview. I knew this was going to be an easy interview, as Sharon clearly has a vibrant personality and lots to say! I met Sharon like many residents meet each other in Downieville, walking our dogs. Sharon is a self-professed water-lover and if she didn’t live in Downieville, she tells me she’d live on some remote coast in the Caribbean. She and her husband Eric and their family and fur-family settled on into one of the most picturesque homes nestled along the Downie River, and while it’s not in the tropics, it’s pretty darn spectacular.

“So, tell us who you are Sharon” I asked. “Who am I?” Sharon mused in response to my request for a self-introduction. “Well, I’m Sharon,” she began, offering a glimpse into her life. “I’ve been married now for almost 30 years this year, same guy.” With a twinkle in her eye, Sharon recounted the adventurous path that led her to Downieville. “I moved out of the house when I was what, 19,” she shared, recalling a spontaneous decision sparked by a concert invitation from a friend. “She called me up and said, hey, she says I got concert tickets to see the Cure in Santa Barbara. Let’s go!” She says it was the best spontaneous decision of her life. I love her sentimental nature and urge her to keep telling me her story.

Photo Caption (River front homes of Downieville, CA – Photo By: Sharon Ranzoni)

Sharon’s journey continued as she navigated through various cities and experiences, a career as a dental assistant, marriage to the love of her life, their beautiful children (and I mean beautiful, she showed me pictures), each shaping her identity in unique ways. “We finally found our house in Grass Valley and lived there for 27 years,” she shared. “We’ve been coming up here [to Downieville] forever and ever,” Sharon reminisced about her fond memories of visiting Downieville in all seasons before finally making it her home.

Turning to more specific experiences, I asked Sharon to share a memorable moment she had in Downieville. With a smile, she reflected on the connections forged with fellow travelers at the Sierra Streamside Cabins, a local cabin resort along historic Highway 49 just a few turns outside of Downieville. “I think every day is a memorable experience,” Sharon remarked, highlighting the vibrant encounters she cherishes in Downieville. “But probably my most memorable life experiences for me were when our family came up for summers and stayed at the Sierra Streamside Cabins,” she reminisced, recounting the joyous gatherings and shared experiences with other travelers, once strangers, who became lifelong friends.  As she spoke, a hint of emotion crept into her voice, revealing the depth of the bonding that must have taken place over long summer days when her kids were little.

The footbridge to Sierra Streamside Cabins in Downieville, CA, Photo by Sonya Z. Meline

Downieville boasts a myriad of lodging options that promise adventure right from the moment of arrival. Take, for example, the Sierra Streamside Cabins, where guests embark on an exhilarating journey across a daring footbridge suspended by cables over the rushing Yuba River just to reach their accommodation. Another thrilling option is the Riverside Mountain Lodge, where guests step out onto balconies that extend over the Downie River, immersing them in the heart of the flowing waters. For those seeking a more rustic experience, numerous campgrounds beckon, each with its own unique charm. At Wild Plum Campground in neighboring Sierra City, for instance, visitors can camp along the shore, with a tranquil creek meandering through the campsites, offering a serene and secluded setting.

Continuing our exploration of Downieville and its unique charm, my conversation with Sharon shed further light on what makes this community truly special. As Sharon eloquently expressed, “it’s the people who breathe life into this mountain enclave. Their warmth, diversity, and genuine friendliness create an atmosphere akin to a close-knit family.”

Sharon’s reflections on how living in Downieville has impacted her life resonate deeply. Despite the occasional tasks of home maintenance, she finds solace in the laid-back rhythm of mountain living. Her description of the community as a source of “peace and calm” underscores the transformative power of this idyllic setting.

Sharon and her husband Eric in the Caribbean

While Downieville offers tranquility, Sharon candidly shared her occasional yearning for city live, a feeling she calls “cabin fever” – the desire to venture beyond the mountain village, if only for a brief respite. Yet, as she reminisced about returning home to Downieville, her words painted a vivid picture of the profound beauty that awaits around every corner, from the winding roads to the soothing flow of the river.

Sharon’s anecdote about a memorable hike with her husband encapsulates the unique experience of living in Downieville. The seamless transition from civilization into the heart of nature, just steps from their doorstep, is a testament to the community’s unparalleled connection to the surrounding landscape.

As Sharon gazes out her window at the majestic river views, her appreciation for Downieville’s natural splendor is palpable. It’s a sentiment shared by many residents, a testament to the enduring allure of this mountain paradise.

Brewfest 2023, Downieville, CA

In Sharon’s words, “It really is breathtaking.” And indeed, it’s this breathtaking beauty, combined with the warmth of its people, that makes Downieville a place like no other.

Our discussion turned to the lesser-known attractions in the area, and Sharon’s eyes lit up as she described the abundance of scenic trails just waiting to be explored. “You walk for ten minutes, and you’re surrounded by breathtaking beauty,” she exclaimed. “One of my favorites is the North Yuba Trail.”

The North Yuba trail is 16.0 miles long. The first leg begins at the Downieville Trailhead and follows the Yuba River past expansive swimming holes, beautiful rock formations, and vast views with a nicely kept trail. It continues 8 miles into the town of Goodyears Bar and then meanders another 8 miles where it ends at Rocky Rest Trailhead off Hwy 49.

A Day at the Beach in Downieville, CA

I nodded in agreement, sharing my own love for the North Yuba Trail, and hiking in the area in general. Unlike other places where trails are crowded and parking is scarce, Downieville offers a sense of serenity that’s hard to find elsewhere but all right outside your backdoor.

As our conversation continued, Sharon revealed her favorite event in town: Brewfest. “It’s always a blast,” she said, “even though I usually end up working it.”

Getting ready for tubing on the North Yuba River in Downieville

We chuckled at the irony, but it was evident that Sharon’s dedication to her community ran deep. Whether she was pouring beers at Brewfest, caring for aging neighbors, or engaging in conversations with passersby on the street, her love for Downieville shone through. This annual event attracts individuals from far and wide, providing both locals and visitors with an opportunity to relish the unhurried charm of life as Main St is transformed into a sudsy paradise. Attendees can indulge in tastings of small-batch brewery and craft beers, including a special section dedicated to homebrewers, offering a rare treat not easily found elsewhere. The festivities include competitions to determine the finest brews, an array of delectable food options, upbeat live music, and, of course, the stunning backdrop of nature to enhance the experience.

Before wrapping up our interview, I asked Sharon about her hopes for the future of Downieville. “I hope all the businesses continue to thrive,” she said thoughtfully, her gaze drifting momentarily to the bustling activity outside the café window. “And that we see more opportunities for growth and development.” Sharon’s concern for the economic prosperity of Downieville was palpable, rooted not just in community spirit but in personal experience. She shared how her son’s first forays into the workforce began here, in the heart of Downieville’s tourism industry. Working at the local coffee shops, he had the chance to interact with both locals and visitors from around the world, an experience Sharon believed was invaluable for his growth and development. “He loves it,” she remarked with pride, “and it’s not just him. It’s important for all the kids growing up here to see a thriving tourism economy. Our town relies on tourism to thrive, and my son’s positive experiences are a testament to that.”

Her words resonated deeply, echoing my own sentiments and experiences since my son’s first job was here in the very coffeeshop we were sitting in, Cold Rush Café.

In a world that’s constantly changing, Downieville stands as a beacon of calm—a haven where the emerald rivers converge with tree-covered mountains, and historic buildings line the tranquil waterways. Here, children stroll or pedal their bikes down peaceful streets, attending school where small class sizes foster a sense of community and individualized attention. And in any season, beneath the expansive blue sky scented with pine, the surrounding wilderness beckons in every direction, promising endless adventure. Along the way, whether on a leisurely stroll or a rugged hike, one can count on the welcoming smiles of fellow visitors and residents, each encounter infused with genuine warmth.

North Yuba River – Photo by Sharon Ranzoni

As I bid farewell to Sharon, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to explore this hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Sierra Nevada that we both call home. And as I walked home along the wooden boardwalk lined pathways of Main Street of Downieville, the rush of the May’s snowmelt filling the river heard all the way in the center of the quiet town, I knew that I had found a place where the beauty of nature is matched only by the warmth of its people.

I hope you will join us!