MENDOCINO Co., 5/20/18 — Are you too burdened by convenience? Is the fact that you can drive to the store instead of walking miles and miles like your great-grandparents frustrating you? Well if so, don't worry! You'll soon have the opportunity to spend weeks walking hundreds of miles to Eureka — a drive that usually takes a few hours.
But we joke. We think this proposal is pretty cool — turning a long disused railroad track into a 300 mile trail from Arcata to Sonoma that showcases some of our region's beauty. The North Coast's state senator, Mike McGuire, recently proposed a bill, SB 1029, which if passed will authorize the conversion of the roughly 300 mile long right-of-way previously controlled by the North Coast Rail Authority and to turn it into walking trail on par with the John Muir or the Appalachian trails.
Under the proposed legislation the trail would be built in two segments, from Lombard in southern Sonoma County to Willits, and from Willits to Arcata. The bill also includes a provision for "a freight rail study to be completed to measure the potential interest in continuing or expanding freight operations." Meaning that it does not preclude the expansion, or return, of train freight services to Willits, but it would effectively eliminate any such service north of Willits, in the notoriously environmentally trick Eel River Canyon.
Would you like to join the staff of The Mendocino Voice for a walk from Willits to Eureka? Well, mark you calendar down for a few years from now, and perhaps a couple appropriations battles as well.
Here's the full press release from McGuire's office:
Senator McGuire introduces Great Redwood Trail Act
SB 1029 addresses future of North Coast rail line by transitioning hundreds of miles of unused, dilapidated rail into a world class destination trail system
Sacramento, CA – After months of meetings with rail leaders, elected officials, state agencies, residents and trail and open space advocates, Senator Mike McGuire’s bill that sets a path for the future of the 300 mile long rail right-of-way through California’s North Coast and ancient redwoods is moving forward with broad support.
Today, Senator McGuire introduced amendments to SB 1029 — the Great Redwood Trail Act — setting in motion the legislative process that will address the future of the North Coast rail line which would eventually connect the San Francisco and Humboldt Bays.
“The decisions made two decades ago to create a rail agency without some base level of funding have proven unrealistic and we have spent the past months having honest, and difficult, conversations about exactly where it is practical for freight to operate on the rail line. These discussions have been focused on the highest and best use of the remaining miles of track,” Senator McGuire said.
“Our goal moving forward is to create a world class trail system for the entire length of the line – from San Francisco Bay to the Humboldt Bay – which would be a destination for locals and outdoor enthusiasts from across the planet,” Senator McGuire added. “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.”
Facing aging infrastructure that has fallen into disrepair on large portions of the rail line, as well as a longterm lack of sustainable funding, the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA) will be dissolved through SB 1029, and the 300 mile long right-of-way will be segmented in two. The Northern Segment - from Willits to Arcata - will be temporarily transferred to the state Department of Transportation, who is charged with beginning the “railbanking” process, cataloging property easements and advancing environmental work. The Great Redwood Trail Agency would then take over to start building the actual Trail in the coming couple of years. The legislation will also authorize the continuation of excursion and potential freight trains around Humboldt Bay.
The Southern Segment, from Willits to Lombard in southern Sonoma County, will be transferred to a separate agency, who will be responsible for continuing freight operation on the portion of the line currently active, and for creating the southern portion of the Great Redwood Trail. No specific successor agency has been decided upon yet, as it’s still very early in the legislative process and discussions are continuing.
SB 1029 will also allow a freight rail study to be completed to measure the potential interest in continuing or expanding freight operations.
SB 1029 will be heard in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee in early April.