I have a new favorite book. Well, it's not that new and it's not a real book. I just discovered online the 170-page report called "Humboldt County Coastal Trail Implementation Strategy," published in January 2011. It's about the dream of being able to transport yourself, sans car, along the California Coastal Trail in Humboldt County on your way from Oregon to Mexico. (A riveting read. Great photos and maps.)
Since 2007, I've been writing about a specific 6.5-mile strip of that journey, the Bay Trail — you know, the one that should run along the bay between two of our main population centers in Humboldt County, Arcata to the north and Eureka to the south? Seven years ago I wrote an outdoors column about an attempt by Fieldbrook neighbors to walk the rail line from Arcata to Eureka. We stupidly took along hand clippers for the vegetation overgrowing the tracks when we really needed weed-whackers and chainsaws. We had to give up twice from the Arcata side, so we jumped ahead to Bracut and worked our way south along the eucalyptus trees and into Eureka by Target. Our effort got some attention on the radio, and motorists driving by honked in support. It was a small victory.
We've tried several more times to raise awareness, including a hike in 2011 with members of the Humboldt Trails Council. Then I started getting cranky and impatient. I wondered aloud (in this publisher's column) why we — walkers, bicyclists, hikers, bird-watchers, families with strollers, people in wheelchairs — can't have a trail on that publicly-owned railroad right-of-way while the North Coast Railroad Authority and its operator figure out how to bring train service back. We needed to stop fantasizing and start asking harder questions.
Hundreds of other people were of a similar mind. I joined up with a few of them in early 2012 to form the Bay Trail Advocates and we made a plan. That year was consumed by hundreds of hours of meetings, lobbying individuals, groups, government agencies, business leaders and elected officials. We prepped for and attended all of those nine public hearings culminating in victory that December: The NCRA Board of Directors unanimously gave permission for the trail to be built under certain conditions. When the Bay Trail story is finally written, I will remember the efforts of many, but one guy in particular — former NCRA Director Bill Kier, himself a trail nut and a very smart political strategist. Bill had been working for years on another should-be-built trail, along the old Annie & Mary railroad line from Arcata to Blue Lake. He set aside his own dream to help us plot and scheme how to wrangle that right-of-way vote from his fellow NCRA directors. Bill, with the help of former Supervisor Clif Clendenen, orchestrated those final three public hearings in Eureka that made it so obvious the NCRA board had to take action or the right-of-way would be lost into the bay forever. (The trail and a maintained rail prism will help protect that stretch of Highway 101.)
In 2013 the Bay Trail wagon was permanently hitched to the Caltrans Highway 101 Improvement Project when the California Coastal Commission voted to approve the highway upgrade.
Of course the Bay Trail is just one link in the California Coastal Trail, but it's a critical link.
Lately, there has been a flood of CCT/Humboldt news — all of it good. Last month, the California Transportation Commission awarded $2 million to the Bay Trail for design and permitting work from Bracut to Eureka. The commission also gave $800,000 to the Bay Trail section in Arcata for construction. A preliminary study is now complete on how best to cross Little River up north. (Currently bicyclists have to get on the freeway north of Clam Beach and off at Moonstone to reach Trinidad.)
Finally, we are learning a lot more about the Eureka sections of the CCT, called the Eureka Waterfront Trail. Phase A will extend from the existing Hikshari' Trail to Del Norte Street, and Phase B will extend from Del Norte Street to C Street. Phase C will connect the existing Adorni Trail at Halvorsen Park to the existing Target Trail, then continue under the Highway 101 bridge at Eureka Slough to Tydd Street near Myrtletown. Phase C will connect with the Bay Trail South segment near the Target Trail and Eureka Slough.
This means Eureka will soon have a contiguous trail, along the beautiful waterfront, throughout the city limits — all without street crossings. It will have the only non-motorized trail crossing of Highway 101 (connecting to Tydd Street). It will mean that tourists with bicycles will be able to stay in Eureka, jump on their bikes some day and ride to Trinidad for lunch. (I recommend the open-faced oyster sandwich at Seascape.)
This Sunday, April 27, will be an opportunity to high-five progress so far on all trails throughout Humboldt, and the Bay Trail in particular, as the Humboldt Trails Council puts on its Jammie Jog in Arcata. See this week's Calendar for details.