On Friday, a subcommittee of the North Coast Railroad Authority will meet at 10 a.m. in the Eureka City Council Chambers with one agenda item: to learn from an engineer, a railroad expert, about the current condition of the 101 corridor right of way around the bay from Eureka to Samoa.
Why do I care and why will I be in the audience to listen?
Readers of this column may recall that in March I began working with a small group of friends to advocate anew for a Humboldt Bay Trail, a safe, off-highway path for bikes and pedestrians between Arcata and Eureka. (There have been many other efforts by others in the past.) After all, we concluded, don't we already have a public asset that has been unused and neglected for 15 years -- the NCRA-owned right of way -- that could be used for a trail until the railroad someday resumes freight and passenger service?
We started calling ourselves the Bay Trail Advocates and we made a plan: to ask our elected city and county officials to ask the NCRA to consider using the right of way for a trail. The NCRA only meets in Eureka a few times a year, so we circled two dates on the calendar, July 11 and Nov. 14, and we began lobbying.
Some good things -- or bad, depending on your point of view -- happened along the way. We learned that such a trail would greatly enhance the prospects of Caltrans' 101 Corridor project. And we learned that with little or no repair for 15 years, the railroad prism was melting into the bay.
Those two facts helped to get the attention of county supervisors and other elected officials and to improve the chances for a trail.
This subcommittee -- Humboldt County Supervisor Clif Clendenen (current chair of the NCRA), Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowan and Bill Kier of Blue Lake -- has its work cut out. It will receive a report Friday about the corridor condition and what it will take to fix it. (The rail prism also protects Highway 101 from storm surge.) At the next meeting on Oct. 12, it will learn about trail opportunities. On Oct. 26, it will get an update on any and all potential freight or passenger projects that may be in the works. And finally, it has promised to deliver a summary report and recommendation to the full NCRA board by Nov. 14.
All those who have worked on trails in the past are looking forward to the subcommittee's findings and report.