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A Summit for the Future

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What are you doing Saturday, June 4? There's an event that morning in Eureka and I hope you'll stop by.

Yes, I know you're busy. Just to see how busy, I checked the Journal's online calendar and there are at least 58 other ways to spend that particular day. It's the first Saturday in June and the weather will likely be terrific. There's the Arcata Farmers Market, Arts Alive in Eureka, the Summer Arts and Music Festival in Benbow, Pony Express Days in McKinleyville, a pet parade in Ferndale, North Coast Dance's Spring Concert, a cello festival at HSU, and CASA's 25th anniversary party at the Eureka Theater (congrats!). Wow. Add to that live music and all the things not in the Journal's Calendar — like your kid's soccer game, Jewell Distillery's opening in Blue Lake or the sands of College Cove. In Fieldbrook, we have a once-a-month neighborhood potluck that just happens to be this Saturday and it's our turn to host. But before we light the barbecue, I'm heading over to the Wharfinger Building for the Trails Summit.

For those of you like me who keep asking what's happening on the Bay Trail between Eureka and Arcata — and will it happen in our lifetime — this event will be a status report. Doors will open at 9:30 a.m. for a meet-and-greet, but don't miss the short presentations at 10 a.m. The county will go first, providing an update on all the pieces of the regional trail network system. Then staff from the cities of Arcata, Eureka and Fortuna will talk about progress, priorities and how the public can get involved. Even if you can't make the formal presentation, there'll be tables to visit until noon with agencies and organizations talking about completed trail projects and those still in development in a neighborhood near you. This is definitely a kid-friendly event, so bring them along.

It's being billed as a "report back to the public," a behind-the-scenes look at how we are moving from the vision of a countywide network of non-motorized, hike-and-bike trails to the real thing. One word of caution from Hank Seemann, Humboldt County's deputy director of Public Works: "This is not about home runs. This is about hits and singles to advance the runners."

My particular interest, since I semi-retired a few years back, has been the Humboldt Bay Trail. On a beautiful day like this Saturday will be, I can visualize a solid parade of people safely walking and biking between Arcata and Eureka to go out to breakfast, visit Old Town or the marsh, and shop at the farmers market. The two largest population centers along the bay will finally be linked for humans not in cars. Some day.

I heard there is going to be a special shout-out to Blue Lake as a model for success. Even though the Annie & Mary Trail to Arcata presents huge obstacles and a complete trail is far in the future, that doesn't stop a dedicated group of trail advocates from showing the rest of us how to organize and get the job done. I know a number of people who were raised in Humboldt, left for college and careers, then came home to raise their own families. One of them told me that after a 15-year detour to the Midwest, he was surprised at how far behind Humboldt County is in building trails compared to other regions of the country. There are many reasons why, of course, but consider just one: our challenging terrain. What makes this place so majestic — heavily forested mountains rising right out of the ocean upward to more than 2,000 feet — makes flat land hard to come by.

In addition, it's a challenge to get everyone on the same page, from state and local agencies to local volunteer groups with sometimes-conflicting agendas. I hope I don't sound naïve, but I think there has been significant progress in the last few years. The North Coast Railroad Authority has signed an agreement with the city of Ukiah to share its right of way there. And its board is working closely with both Eureka and Arcata on trail projects within those cities' limits. Then there's Caltrans. While it's easy to demonize big, bloated state agencies headquartered far away, Caltrans has a statewide mandate for a "complete street" policy that embraces all forms of moving people from place to place. A few years back I was part of a small, concerted effort to get permission from the NCRA to share the rail corridor between Arcata and Eureka for the Bay Trail and I can tell you Caltrans District 1 employees were on board, doing everything they could to help. That support was also essential to the effort it took to get conditional approval from the California Coastal Commission to build the trail. Still ahead, we'll need to get that approval from "conditional" to the real thing. It will be no small task.

If you go Saturday, you'll learn about more the challenges ahead. Using $2 million in state funds, the county is ready to hire a consultant to do the technical work — engineering and environmental design — on the Bay Trail. Think about sensitive wetlands and steep narrow spaces near those eucalyptus trees in the Safety Corridor, and crossing the Eureka slough. It will likely take two to three years to design and it won't be easy. Finally, some day, it will take $9 million to $12 million to construct 7 miles of trail to link Eureka with Arcata's effort to reach just north of Bracut. And we'll still need a fund to manage and maintain all of Humboldt's trails, along with the volunteer trail stewards from the Humboldt Trails Council.

Come and learn how you can get involved. Hope to see you Saturday.


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