Wow. I received dozens of e-mails and letters to the editor following a story I wrote a few weeks ago for the Journal's outdoor column ("Off the Pavement," Nov. 8).
My friends and I love to walk, hike and mountain bike on weekends. And, quoting my friend Pat, we are beginning to wonder if we will live long enough to see a multi-use trail between Arcata and Eureka. A potential trail is so obviously sitting there unused. So one Sunday we took leather gloves and clippers and hiked the railroad track from Eureka to Arcata, clearing blackberries along the way. We didn't make it the entire way. There are still sections of track too overgrown and impassable.
The response to the story was immediate and overwhelming. How can we help? Where can I join? I could not keep up with individual e-mail responses, so sent a generic reply. I said the Journal would be happy to sponsor a clean-up day in the spring. KHUM radio offered to help spread the word as well.
Well, apparently folks don't want to wait. They want the tracks cleared and they want to start using it at least as a hiking trail. So somebody picked a date and time and that information began appearing in e-mails from various individuals and organizations. Here it is: Saturday, Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. The plan is to show up with tools and safety gear (goggles with weed whackers, please) at various entry points: behind Target, by Bracut and especially at the Arcata end by South G and Highway 101 and by the Marsh Interpretive Center.
If only the people who e-mailed me show up, the tracks will be cleared of vegetation quickly. So what's next?
Use it. As soon at it's all clear just take some time to walk the line. It's beautiful. It's flat. You'll see birds and wildlife and vistas you'll never see from your car.
And join the Trails Trust organization. If membership in that pro-trail group grows from 150 to say, about 500 or 1,000, maybe that will show our elected officials the demand is there. Go to: email@example.com or send a check to HAF/Trail Trust, PO Box 6625, Eureka, CA 95502. Dues are student/senior $15, individual $25, family $35 and business $50.
Then what? Tell your favorite city council member or, better yet, county supervisor, you are tired of being held hostage by the railroad supporters who think the restoration of freight traffic is what the future of Humboldt County should be. Ask them, what freight? Ask them to show you the math. By the numbers, this is our present situation:
It will cost $4 million to remove the rails (yes, remove them), grade and pave a multi-use trail from Eureka to Arcata. There are grants available to do this. But first, the North Coast Railroad Authority needs to follow the lead of other non-functioning railroads across the U.S. and railbank that section of the line so it can be used for other purposes. It is a procedure established to protect the railroad's right of way. The law says specifically when and if we have the money and the potential freight traffic to reopen the closed rail line, the right of way still exists. If not, let's put that very public right of way to its best and highest use.
Right now railroad fans insist that trail fans come up with $31 million — not $4 million — to build a trail beside the non-operational rail line. Even if we found that money, the big unanswered question is: What will rail fans have then? They still won't have any freight and they still won't have a line from Eureka through the Eel River canyon. They will have a section of track to nowhere from nowhere moving nothing. (By the way, this plan does not preclude backers of a tourist train from running from Arcata to the proposed railroad museum in Samoa.)
One more thing: Tell Bonnie Neely you unequivocally support her in her effort to hold Caltrans' feet to the fire. How dare Caltrans officials come up with a "transportation" plan that doesn't include foot and bike transportation for that 101 corridor?
Which century do they live in?