Humboldt County has come a long way from the days when railroads dominated the conversation about economic development and few local politicians saw trails as a community priority. It took trail pioneers working for many agonizing years to complete the Hammond Trail. And the Bay Trail seemed forever mired in a mountain of feasibility studies and general resistance. All that seems an eternity ago.
To hear the reports on this past Saturday morning at the fourth Trails Summit, which was held virtually this year, nearly every Humboldt County community had trail news to share. Twenty-three years after efforts first began, ground was broken on May 30 in Blue Lake on the first section of the Annie & Mary Trail. The city of Arcata plans to push the Annie & Mary Trail east 3 miles to the Municipal Water District Water Park. The city of Eureka hopes to extend the Waterfront Trail south to the Sequoia Park Zoo (the Bay to Zoo Trail), with a vision of utilizing Martin Slough to eventually connect with the Hikshari' Trail, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to circle the city. The Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association, in collaboration with Green Diamond Resource Co., has completed a world-class system of members-only mountain bike trails near the Fish Hatchery in Blue Lake. Fortuna and Rio Dell both reported on proposals in their jurisdictions. The entire summit video is available on the Humboldt Trails Council website at www.humtrails.org.
Here are four key developments:
The McKay Community Forest. After releasing a draft trail plan in early 2019, Humboldt County Public Works is finishing a few last steps, including finalizing an environmental study, according to Deputy Director Hank Seemann. He expects to complete the review process by summer's end. This would allow volunteer and staff work to focus on the nearly 30 miles of planned trails. Initial access to the community forest will be from the Northridge Road parking area and the Harris Street entrance. In addition, the Board of Supervisors will consider the acquisition of 197 additional acres along the south end of the 1,000-acre forest at its meeting on June 23.
The Humboldt Bay Trail South. The remaining 4 miles between the Eureka Slough (Waterfront Trail) and Bracut (Bay Trail North) continues to be in the project-development and permitting phase. Seemann anticipates construction to start in 2021.
Waterfront Trail Extension. The city of Eureka is partnering with Caltrans to utilize the railroad right-of-way to build a 1-mile multi-use trail connecting Humboldt Hill with the south end of the Hikshari' Trail. Miles Slattery, Eureka's community services director, says construction will begin in 2021 if the city obtains funding for adjacent salt marsh restoration. This would give residents of Humboldt Hill safe pedestrian access to Eureka for the first time.
The Great Redwood Trail. For trail lovers, it is hard not to get excited when state Sen. Mike McGuire talks about the transformation of this 300-mile railroad right-of-way, which he refers to as the "spine of the North Coast" or "the people's trail." Legislation is in process to close the North Coast Railroad Authority and assign a successor agency to plan, build and maintain the "longest rail-trail in the United States." It is a long-term vision although the changes have already aided in the development of trails, according to McGuire, in Willits, Ukiah and Marin County.
Throughout the summit, the importance of community volunteers was stated repeatedly. HTC President Michael Proulx shared that volunteer trail stewards contributed more than 3,600 hours of labor in 2019. RCMBA President Tom Phillips observed that the 320 members of RCMBA devoted more than 3,000 hours annually. The Dennis Wendt Memorial Trail in Fortuna was built entirely by volunteers led by Sean Swanson. As the COVID-19 crisis stretches already scarce city and county resources even further, volunteers will play an ever-increasing role in building and maintaining trails. See www.humtrails.org for volunteer opportunities.
These past three months have reaffirmed the importance of our trails and beaches as community assets. (I know that they have helped preserve my mental and physical health.) Seemann concluded his portion of Saturday's program by noting, "Trails take us to places we love with people we love. .... They provide opportunities to be active, to heal and regain our strength, to build resilience for the future, and to affirm our connections with each other." Amen.
Rees Hughes is a local trail volunteer, devoted walker and author of Hiking Humboldt: 101 Shorter Day Hikes. He prefers he/him pronouns.