News Great Redwood Trail – Closer to Becoming a Reality
Imagine yourself riding north from Larkspur Ferry, through Cal Park Hill Tunnel toward San Rafael. Three hundred and twenty miles of bike paths and trails later, you find yourself in Eureka looking out over Humboldt Bay. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, that dream took a step closer to reality this October when Governor Newsom signed the Great Redwood Trail Act (SB 69) by State Senator Mike McGuire.
The bill authorizes the creation of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, a governmental body that will take over the long-defunct North Coast Railroad and convert it to one of the nation’s longest (and likely its most wild and beautiful) off-road trails. The agency will be staffed by the California Coastal Conservancy by July 2022 and will then begin work developing the trail master plan.
While a timeline has not yet been established, there is reason to believe that much of the project could be developed in a relatively short amount of time. Several portions of the right-of-way already exist, such as the SMART Pathway in Marin and Sonoma and Humboldt Bay Trail). The GRTA also already owns the rest of the land necessary for the trail, and funding for projects like this is likely to increase in coming years.
To be sure, there will be challenges. The former railroad passes through a number of tunnels which today are in varying stages of collapse and the entire section of the Eel River canyon will require a great deal of work due to its propensity to flood and extreme remoteness.
MCBC applauds Senator McGuire and the state legislature for taking this bold step toward a future where riders can tour California without the stress of riding on Route 1. This, we believe, will open up bicycle tourism to a much wider range of people, and bring money and investment to smaller, often struggling rural towns in the far north of the state.
This summer our Policy & Planning Director told us about his ride on the Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal Trail. Two things that stuck out were (1) how many older and non-traditional bike riders were using the trail, and (2) how much the towns it passed through had oriented themselves towards the trail. Every town saw adults with children, grandmas and grandpas sitting down to lunch or grabbing a coffee mere feet from the trail. It presented an exciting vision of a future that we can build for ourselves here in the Golden State.
One glaring fact about the Great Redwood Trail that anyone from Marin will notice is that it terminates in Larkspur rather than in Sausalito or at the Golden Gate Bridge, the natural endpoint. This is for two reasons. First, operationally, while the GRTA is responsible for developing the lion’s share of the trail, the pathway between Willits and Larkspur will remain SMART’s responsibility. Second, connecting the hundreds of miles north of Larkspur with the Golden Gate Bridge will require opening the Alto Tunnel, which represents its own political lift.
While the Great Redwood Trail will likely not directly lead to the opening of Alto Tunnel, it will make it that much more necessary and glaringly obvious. Rather than being the one big tunnel in Marin, it will be the most important of 43 tunnels between the Golden Gate Bridge and Humboldt Bay. We’ll be following the progress of the GRT very closely, and will let our supporters know if there are roadblocks or times for their input.
Sadly, the California of today lags behind much of the nation in regional trails. New York has the Empire State Trail. Pennsylvania and Maryland have the GAP/C&O Canal Trail. Missouri has the Katy Trail. The Great Redwood Trail represents a chance to put our state on the map, and make a commitment to a future where people can visit the many wonders of Northern California without a car.
As we have seen with rails-to-trails projects across the nation, with leadership, vision, and funding, we can build the regional bike routes of our dreams.
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