LITTLE RIVER, 2/18/21 — At a town hall meeting this evening on the Great Redwood Trail, a proposed 300 mile path that would stretch from Marin to Humboldt along a dilapidated North Coast Railroad Authority train line, Senator Mike McGuire announced that authorities are moving forward with the key step of “railbanking” the right-of-way, he also discussed the details of SB69, a bill in the legislature which will create the Great Redwood Trail Agency if passed, and highlighted 1.6 miles of trail in downtown Willits that are soon to be built.
Earlier today the board of the North Coast Railroad Authority voted to file paperwork with the federal government, beginning the process of “railbanking,” which would officially convert the railroad right-of-way into trail right-of-way, while allowing future agencies the option to resume rail service along that path.
Or as McGuire said, “locks in the rail bed so you can put in a trail on top of a rail.” McGuire also noted that he introduced Senate Bill 69, which would officially dissolve the North Coast Railroad Authority and turn it into the Great Redwood Trail Agency, while giving that agency the full suite of powers necessary to carry out construction and operation of the trail. At present no agency is actually responsible for the trail, something SB69, which he introduced into the legislature on December 8, would provide for.
Although McGuire was the star of the show, other characters joined in during the Zoom town hall including Laura Cohen, the western regional director of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Marin County Parks Government and External Affairs Manager Kevin Wright, and Michael Jones of Alta Planning and Design, a non-motorized road design firm. They discussed the actions being taken to get the Great Redwood Trail up and running as well as the many benefits the trail will bring to the communities it will run through.
Jones, a trail expert, laid out the following steps that need to be taken to make the entire trail operational:
- Rail Banking
- Formation of the Great Redwood Trail Agency
- Master plan / environmental impact report
- Feasibility / design
At this point in time, the assessment has been completed, rail banking on the northern section of the trail is moving forward, and McGuire has made moves to create the Great Redwood Trail Agency.
The formation of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, through Senate Bill 69, is an important part of the Great Redwood Trail project and a critical component of McGuire’s original vision for the path. Basically, one point of this whole project was to get rid of the North Coast Railroad Authority, a state agency that was deeply in debt.
The passage of Senate Bill 69 would also create the Great Redwood Trail Agency and transfer the right-of-way from the Rail authority to the Redwood Trail Agency, north of Cloverdale (specifically mile 89). South of mile 89, the right-of-way would be transferred to Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART). Each agency would be responsible for constructing the Great Redwood Trail in their portion of the right-of-way.
The trail, which will span four counties, will look different in every portion. Up in the Eel River Canyon, where the path runs through rougher terrain, it will be a wilderness trail, comparable to the High Sierra Trail, or Pacific Crest; in Sonoma County the trail will be largely paved, and likely serve at least partially as a bike commuter line; while in southern Mendo, stretches of trail will serve as regional bike paths.
The trail is going to be a long term project. Completing the environmental impact report, which they usually refer to as the master plan, may take years. Securing the funds to start doing the master plan, which will serve as a roadmap for how to complete the Great Redwood Trail, may take 12 to 24 months, said McGuire.
Funding may come from a variety of sources including transportation agencies, the state parks bond, nonprofits, and private funders.
Although the entire 320 mile trail may be decades away, some parts of the Great Redwood Trail are already completed or soon to be. A short section of trail in Ukiah was opened up this winter and the plan to build 1.6 miles of trail in downtown Willits is moving forward.
Michael Jones said, “We’re still trying to understand really what we can build, what is affordable, and what serves the needs of the public.”