Monday, May 29, 2023

Great Redwood Trail Planners Tout Potential Tourism Profits While Mendo Residents Express Concerns at Community Workshop

A sign for the Great Redwood Trail in Ukiah [Picture from the Great Redwood Trail Facebook page]

The Great Redwood Trail planners held a community workshop in Willits from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, March 23. The purpose of the workshop was to showcase the section of the trail that will go through Willits, as well as to gather suggestions, comments, and concerns from the public, and also to provide information about the entire 316-mile trail, planned to eventually run from San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay. 

Several agencies are involved in the trail planning and building, and representatives were on hand to answer questions. George Foster, of Alta urban planners was at the front desk, offering index cards and pens for those who wanted to leave written comments. The organizers are gathering comments from the public to analyze while planning the trail. 

District 3 Supervisor John Haschak was on hand, ready to hear comments and concerns from his constituents.

Sarah Marshall, Policy and Promotions Manager, North Coast Opportunities, said it’s important that the planners hear any concerns that people have. Marshall will be at various events in Willits, such as Frontier Days so that people who missed this meeting will have a chance to learn more and to express their views. 

Louisa Morris, Project Development Specialist with the Coastal Conservancy, was staffed on this project because she has experience in successfully developing the California Coastal Trail, from the Oregon border to the Mexican border, along the California coast. The Coastal Trail passes through many jurisdictions, even larger in scope than the GRT. She said the GRT will be completed in stages and will take years to finalize.  

Laura Cohen, Western Regional Director of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, worked with City of Willits staff to apply for $6.5 million in rail funding for the Willits trail section. Laura also prepares case studies on the subject of trail development. For example, on the Olympic Discovery Trail in Washington state, some of the property owners along the trail who were the most vocal critics before the trail was built, ended up loving the trail. Some built gates so they could access the trail directly from their property. 

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A Redwood Valley resident, whose property adjoins the railroad tracks, said he has mixed feelings about the project. He came to the event to learn more. 

In addition to the comment cards, there were large white posterboards available to jot down suggestions and concerns.

Some Concerns Expressed by Meeting Attendees

Planning Workshop Attendees [Photo by Monica Huettl]
  • How will the GRT handle sanitation & trash?
  • Privacy and protection for neighboring landowners
  • Who will pay for this?
  • Loose dogs roaming the trail
  • Who will maintain it?
  • Who will patrol it?
  • Who will handle medical emergencies?

Some Suggestions from Meeting Attendees

  • Kayak and canoe launches along the Eel River portion of the trail 
  • Access at various points along the trail for campgrounds and trailheads
  • Include native tribal cultural information and education
  • Concessions for equipment rentals and local food sales 
  • Ranch and farm tours, B&Bs, farmers markets
  • Include restrooms

A Brief History of this Project

In 1998 the NWP Railroad ceased operations. In 2018, feasibility reports were done on uses for the railroad tracks. In 2021, State Senator Mike McGuire sponsored a bill that was passed to create the Great Redwood Trail Agency. This requires the rail corridor to be preserved by rail banking, defined on the GRTA website as a “method established in the National Trails System Act to preserve an out-of-service rail corridor through interim use as a trail. Railbanking allows a trail to be built as a rail-to-trail, where the trail can be located within or on top of the historic rail alignment.” In 2022 the Ukiah portion of the GRT was opened to the public. Construction on the Willits section is scheduled for 2024. A map and description of the Willits trail is available on this City of Willits link.

Rails to Trails Has Been Successful in Other Parts of the Country

Many of the people involved in planning the GRT have experience with other rail trails. George Foster is both a planner and a trail user. He described a bike trip with his father, Dwight, on the Great Allegheny Passage. A picture from the trip was displayed on one of the informational posters. There are long stretches of rural country, where the trail is not crowded. When the trail goes through a town, it gives trail users a chance to buy food and supplies or stop for the night. The sections going through towns are more heavily used by locals enjoying the trail for recreation.

Best Practices that Contribute to a Successful Rail Trail

  • Protecting and restoring the environment along the trail
  • Support for firefighting and emergency access
  • Informational signage so that trail users do not disturb neighbors, livestock or agriculture
  • Fencing, landscape, and buffers next to private property
  • Safety patrols

Economic Development

Trail boosters say that the trail will support economic development through tourism and environmental restoration. The GRTA planners project that 2 to 3.1 million tourists will use the trail annually, producing revenue of $62,693,000. Workshops will be offered to local businesses on how to attract customers from the trail.

Fifth Amendment Takings and Eminent Domain

There was a stack of Rails-to-Trails Contingency Fee Agreements from Flint Cooper and Mannon, King, Johnson, and WIPF LLP law firms at an otherwise empty table. There was nobody at the table. The firm website contains a section on Rails-to-Trails lawsuits. Nobody answered the phone at the numbers listed on the fee agreements and website, and the firm did not reply to an email inquiry. Were these fee agreements left on the table via a stealth drop? A phone call with Jeff Knowles of Alta confirmed that these fee agreements were not part of the official event. 

How to Stay Informed on Progress of the Rail Trail

You can sign up for email newsletters from the Great Redwood Trail Agency here or follow the Great Redwood Trail on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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  1. All these people care about is profits. They don’t care about community. They don’t care about private property. Their Communists who want city folk up in the country area to ruin it for all of us. All these people do is vandalize and leave trash everywhere. You get this trail going through people’s properties because the train tracks do, and you’re going to end up with people destroying private property. Worst case scenario you’ll end up with missing tourists.

  2. It’s great to see community workshops being held for the Great Redwood Trail project, allowing for public input and concerns to be addressed. The project has the potential to promote economic development and tourism while preserving and restoring the environment.

  3. Hikers, trail bike riders, and campers typically bring their own food, sleeping bags and tents. Economic gain for north coast residents: 0. Economic gain for environmental hustlers and their political masters: through the roof.

  4. Derp? And Heelboyheel? Great names! Please feel free to come to the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council meeting April 12 at 5 PM at the Redwood Valley Grange to hear plans for the trail through Redwood Valley. You are so welcome.

    • I’m so thankful for the redwoodvalley meetings, they seem to actually discuss important topics and make ground! Thank you!
      And please lord somebody do something about west rd /freeway/northstate junction before someone gets killed there…

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Monica Huettl
Monica Huettl
Mendocino County Resident, Annoying Horse Girl.

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