San Francisco Bay Trail: Environmental Icon, Public Asset

Posted 03/18/15 by Katie Harris in Success Stories, America's Trails

The Bay Trail is helping to preserve the natural beauty and heritage of the San Francisco Bay Area region. | Photo by TJ Gehling

On March 28, 2015—people around the nation will be getting out to celebrate their favorite pathways and kick off spring in honor of RTC’s third annual Opening Day for Trails. Visit our Opening Day website, and make your official pledge to hit a trail on March 28.

San Francisco will be celebrating Opening Day in full force this year on trails all around the Bay Area. Check out RTC’s Opening Day website for more info.

Public access. It’s the underlying current of many of the environmental battles fought in the state of California, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. In fact, it is a region that has been at the center of various environmental and public access struggles over the decades.

There is an icon that, in many ways, is an actualization of a better future, a tangible result of the hard-fought battles for access that define California’s environmental history: Enter the Bay Trail.

On the Bay Trail | Photo courtesy Michael Patrick | CC by 2.0

Initiated in 1987 (but informed by the environmental battles that proceeded it), the Bay Trail Plan is a vision for a continuous pathway for bicycling and walking that would trace the entire San Francisco Bay shoreline. Although there were many visionaries, Bill Lockyer, a state senator at the time, is often credited as the main mover and shaker during the Bay Trail’s inception. Lockyer authored Senate Bill 100, which laid the framework for the system and directed the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to administer the system’s build-out. ABAG adopted the Bay Trail Plan in 1989, and the San Francisco Bay Trail Project was created to oversee the planning and development of the 500-mile Bay Trail system.

“Public access is a very important element to the Bay Trail,” says Barry Bergman, trail development manager for RTC’s Western Regional Office, adding that any project within 100 feet of the shoreline has to build a trail.

He continues, “The entire region sees the trail as a major priority. It’s not just a place to recreate, it’s also a transportation network and a key component to maintaining public access to the Bay.”

On the Bay Trail at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, Calif. | Photo courtesy Bay Trail Project

And people of all ages, sizes, ethnicities, fitness levels and socioeconomic statuses are hitting the trail daily.

“There is no single group that uses the Bay Trail,” says Lee Chien Huo, Bay Trail planner for ABAG. "The trail system was designed to be used by the broadest groups of people, and that’s really what we’re seeing. People are using it to get healthy, they’re using it for recreation, and they’re using it to get where they need to go.”

Bergman echoes that sentiment. Everybody uses the trail, he says—and for good reason. “The Bay Trail connects communities, offers spectacular views and provides access to the Bay,” he explains. “It is a true asset to the community.”  

What began a half-century ago as a movement to reclaim the Bay and shoreline for the public is still strong today as the Bay Trail embodies the spirit of the impassioned push for access that informed and inspired the trail system’s inception. With 340 miles completed and 160 miles to go, the Bay Trail is filling the gaps and connecting a region. While there are still some unknowns in the trail development process, there is one absolute: Public access will be preserved.

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