Seeds Planted for California's 300-Mile Great Redwood Trail

Posted 05/17/19 by Laura Cohen in Building Trails, America's Trails

Along the route of the Great Redwood Trail in California | Photo by Charles Gandy

Hundreds of trail enthusiasts gathered in Arcata, California, on May 4, for a Town Hall to learn more about the Great Redwood Trail—a 300-mile proposed walking and biking trail that would stretch from the shores of San Francisco Bay to the redwoods of Eureka on Humboldt Bay, highlighting California’s wine country as well as some of the state’s most treasured natural areas.

At the gathering—hosted by State Sen. Mike McGuire, who is championing the project—RTC was invited to present about our continued work across the nation in creating rail-trails, as well as the benefits of this soon-to-be major trail destination in California. Here's a quick recap!

Championing a New California Treasure

Last year, RTC rallied our members in support of state legislation introduced by Sen. McGuire—the Great Redwood Trail Act—that initiated the project to convert a rail line currently owned by the North Coast Rail Authority into a rail-trail. Through an advocacy effort with many local partners, we helped generate more than 2,000 local calls encouraging Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill, which he did in September, and since then, we’ve continued to advise Sen. McGuire and other project leaders on railbanking and other strategies to preserve the corridor and get the project underway.

Sen. Mike McGuire (left) with his chief of staff (right) and RTC's Laura Cohen at a May 4 Town Hall in Arcata, California | Photo courtesy RTC
Sen. Mike McGuire (left) with his chief of staff (right) and RTC's Laura Cohen at a May 4 Town Hall in Arcata, California | Photo courtesy RTC

“Our overall goal is to create a world-class trail system for the entire length of the line, which would be a destination for locals and outdoor enthusiasts from across the planet. The trail would be a significant economic driver for our region and traverse through some of America’s most scenic landscapes, connecting folks with ancient redwoods, state parks and local trails,” Sen. McGuire said in a May 2018 Eureka Times article.

The energy and excitement in the packed room were palpable, as residents expressed their enthusiasm for this big vision. During a Q&A about the project’s progress, Sen. McGuire pointed out that while some segments are already finished or underwayincluding in Arcata, Eureka, Ukiah and Willitsmany details on cost, timeline and management for the overall route will be answered in the coming year as corridor assessments are conducted. He also affirmed that community input will be a priority at every stage of development.

“We want to do this right, not fast,” said Sen. McGuire.


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A Great Connector

When complete, the Great Redwood Trail will be the longest rail-trail in California and one of the longest in the country. It would provide access to some of the most beautiful and remote landscapes of northern California, including the spectacular 50-mile Eel River Canyon north of Willits. Along the route, trail users will find 13 major trestles, 32 bridges and 36 tunnels, the longest of which is 4,313 feet long.

Eel River Canyon along the Great Redwood Trail route | Photo by Charles Gandy
Eel River Canyon along the Great Redwood Trail route | Photo by Charles Gandy

The concept involves connecting paved trails that serve active transportation needs within the towns and cities along the way with more recreational natural-surface trails in rural sections through five counties to offer a hiking, biking and horseback riding experience unlike any other. The meandering trek from Larkspur to beyond Eureka would provide unencumbered, picturesque views few have laid eyes on before.

Initial estimates anticipate 1.2 million annual users generating $10 million annually in new visitor revenues when the trail is complete.

“It’s a dream,” said Caryl Hart, former Sonoma County parks director, in a March 2018 article in The Press Democrat. “I really think it has the potential to be a bedrock of the economy of the North Coast.”

Project planning will begin in earnest later this year, when the California Natural Resources Agency is expected to initiate a boundary survey and engage a planning team to prepare an initial corridor assessment. Master planning will follow after the assessment is complete.

Open-air museum in Willits along the Great Redwood Trail route | Photo by Charles Gandy
Open-air museum in Willits along the Great Redwood Trail route | Photo by Charles Gandy

Soon, the state with some of the tallest trees in the world will have one of the longest rail-trails in the country! RTC will continue to provide updates as the trail progresses, so check back for the latest!

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