Trail of the Month: December 2001
Sir Francis Drake/Cross Marin Trail, California
Running 8 miles of asphalt and ballast from Lagunitas to Tocaloma, the Sir Francis Drake Bikeway is a spectacular and very popular rail-trail in Western Marin County. Commonly referred to as the Samuel P. Taylor Path, this corridor provides a scenic and very pleasant alternative to the busy east-west roadway in West Marin, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
The trail traverses Samuel P. Taylor State Park, providing a safe and enjoyable way for visitors to access the swimming holes in Lagunitas Creek and the Redwood groves that have made the park so popular. When extended, the trail will become a magnificent gateway to the Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the most spectacular sections of the California Coastline.
From 1875 to 1935, the North Pacific Coast Railroad and then later, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad operated trains from Sausalito to Point Reyes Station, and north to Cazadero, north of the Russian River. Originally, the railroad was constructed to transport lumber and dairy products from Point Reyes and points north down to San Francisco.
With the opening of the Pinellas Trail in 1991, though, Dunedin suddenly had 500 people traveling through its downtown on weekdays and 800 per day on weekends. Not content to leave their hopes for economic revitalization resting entirely on the Trail, Dunedin's Community Redevelopment Agency invested about $1.2 million to improve their Main Street's streetscape, which included new sidewalks, numerous pedestrian crosswalks, stop signs that ease travel on foot and bike and a posted speed limit of 15 miles an hour. With the combination of the Trail's proximity to downtown and the improved accessibility for those on foot, Dunedin's Main Street is now a vibrant and distinctive place that, not surprisingly, no longer has any vacancies.
Samuel Pennfield Taylor, the Park's namesake, ran a paper mill just west of the current boundaries of the park, which was the first mill west of the Mississippi to mass produce square-bottomed brown paper bags. Vacationers from San Francisco would ride the ferry to Sausalito and connect with the train to access Camp Taylor, a popular resort in West Marin, offering opportunities for hiking, swimming and other recreational activities. Residents of the San Geronimo Valley rode the train to commute to the city, connecting with the ferry in Sausalito.
This existing 4.5-mile trail is a promising start to a countywide system for non-motorized travelers. The recently adopted Marin County Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan identifies the Northwestern Pacific Railroad corridor as a potential alignment for part of an east-west, cross-county bikeway. This facility will be a combination of on and off-road sections, and will run from the Ferry Terminal in Larkspur west to Point Reyes Station, a distance of approximately 25 miles. In 1974, Marin County purchased the rail line from Lagunitas to Tocaloma and paved portions of the right of way for trail use. The other existing section of trail runs between the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the town of Ross, along the Corte Madera Creek.
The next exciting step toward completing a cross-county bikeway is the addition of 5 miles of rail-trail between Tocaloma and Point Reyes Station. For the past 14 years, the current property owners and the National Park Service have been negotiating the purchase of the 330 acre Gallagher Ranch. If this property is acquired, cyclists, hikers and equestrians would be able to travel for 13 miles — separated from automobile traffic - from Lagunitas to Point Reyes Station, through an existing state park and open space the National Parks Service plans to create from the acquisition. The trail would also provide access to Tomales Bay State Park from Central Marin and rural communities in the San Geronimo Valley.
On October 14, 2001, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition conducted a bicycle ride on this land, after receiving special permission from the Gallagher family and the National Park Service. Nearly 200 cyclists (see photo above) experienced the stunning beauty and the magic of this corridor, which will eventually become the east-west backbone of a countywide system for non-motorized transportation and recreation.
The Rails-to-Trails California Field Office is excited about working with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, the National Parks Service and the County of Marin to make Marin a model for safe bicycling and walking. The ambitious Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan lays the groundwork for a countywide system that will provide access to schools, shopping centers, residential areas and work sites rendering Marin virtually flat for bike and pedestrian travel by using several tunnels that were once part of the County's rail network.