With the sound of a bocce ball tournament in progress at Brutocao Cellars , the Great Redwood Trail Agency (GRTA)planners held a community workshop on July 27, 2023 to showcase the Hopland portion of the trail, expected to be a loop just shy of four miles. The planners touted the benefits of the trail through Hopland and answered previous concerns from trail neighbors about crime, fires, and homelessness.
County Supervisors Glenn McGourty, John Haschak, and Mo Mulheren were in attendance, as well as candidates for First District Supervisor Madeline Cline, Adam Gaska, and Trevor Mockel.
The public safety aspects were covered in more detail than in prior meetings. The planners claim that “Well-maintained trails have been proven to deter crime and create a safe experience for recreation. . . .” The maintenance and management plan will include maintenance of trailheads and restrooms, signs providing directions and also rules and regulations, anti-graffiti coating, benches, interpretive panels, and public art.
For areas of the trail passing through ag land, the planners anticipate using a similar system of signage and educational outreach as the successful Ag Respect Program in Napa to reduce conflicts between farmers and trail users.
Community residents have expressed concerns that the homeless encampments that have become endemic along Ukiah’s portion of the trail will spread to the rest of the trail. Planners pointed out that homelessness is generally located in cities and towns that have services, and is generally not a problem in the more rural areas of the trail. Planners recommend using a proactive approach, as is used in Eureka, with a waterfront ranger patrolling the trail.
Planners say that the trail will bring economic benefits through tourism, recreation, and retail opportunities. An Economic Benefits Analysis is posted on the GRT website, touting the anticipated economic benefits to each geographic area of the trail.
Planners anticipate that the portion of the trail from Hopland to Redwood Valley will be paved to provide a traffic-free alternative for bicycle commuters and recreational riders.
It takes between two to three years to raise grant money to complete each 3 to 10-mile section of the trail. In Mendocino County, the Ukiah section has been built, and the construction of the Willits section should start in 2024. Several sections have been built in Eureka and Arcata. A Master Plan, a high-level roadmap for Mendocino, Trinity, and Humboldt Counties’ section of the trail, will provide guidance on operations and maintenance, and funding sources.
Adam Gaska, Redwood Valley MAC member, Redwood Valley County Water District Board President, Mendocino County Farm Bureau Member, and candidate in next year’s election for First District Supervisor, expressed hopes and some concerns about the Hopland portion of the trail.
How are the “partners” going to be held accountable? The Great Redwood Trail Agency is not responsible for anything after the trail is built. It’s going to come down to funding, who’s going to pay? Hopland Municipal Advisory Council Board Chair Julie Golden and I have been speaking with representatives of the GRT. We want to focus on a stretch of trail that would contain parking, a visitor center, and the Gateway to Hopland arch, to make a welcoming area for trail users. We understand that Mendocino Fire Safety Council received a grant to clean up a stretch on Old River Road. I’ve been pitching to Louisa Morris, that small businesses could use some money from the GRT for “lemonade stand” trail-facing businesses. The GRT representatives said they could not provide funding for local business development. As I understand it, they have $500 million to work with.
Trevor Mockel, a candidate in next year’s election for First District Supervisor, remarked:
I recognize the potential opportunities that the Great Redwood Trail could bring forth. However, I have also been receiving feedback from numerous concerned landowners who are eager to ensure that their voices are heard and their opinions are acknowledged. As we navigate our way forward with this project, it is imperative that we engage in continued outreach and seek compromise. It should be understood that no single party can expect to attain 100% of their desired outcomes. Nevertheless, the concerns echoed consistently revolve around the crucial matter of safety along the trail for current residents residing along its route. These workshops will provide a platform for all parties to voice their thoughts, as we work together towards finding viable solutions for the issues that are likely to arise due to the size and nature of this project.
On August 2, 2023, the Great Redwood Trail planners hosted a webinar open to the public that contained interactive elements with live polling. The first poll revealed that 87% of the webinar audience was “excited” about the GRT, and 7% were “unsure.”
Although the GRT is slated to be a 316-mile rail trail connecting San Francisco Bay in Marin County with Humboldt Bay, it will be comprised of a mosaic of smaller sections. These smaller sections are being built first, and reflect local conditions. The section of the trail from Marin to Santa Rosa will be a Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) pathway. The Mendocino-Trinity-Humboldt sections of the trail will be managed by the GRTA.
The planners are meeting with fire departments, law enforcement, the Mendocino Farm Bureau, local governments, Chambers of Commerce, Native American Tribes, and other community agencies both to listen to their needs and to share information and progress updates.
Fire safety is a big concern. CalFire has recommended signage with rules about fires, specifically no campfires allowed in the dry season. Each section of the trail will have an emergency response plan. The trail will serve as a firebreak and as a conduit for emergency vehicles.
The planners are working with Tribal representatives to preserve sacred cultural sites and create educational opportunities for trail users..
When it comes to maintaining the trail within the Eel River Canyon, the planners recognize the geology of the Eel River Canyon is steep, with unstable hillsides above the river. Cleanup and environmental restoration are needed for old railroad equipment and collapsed railroad tunnels. This section of the trail will be a single-track backcountry trail because of the challenging terrain.
The live polls revealed that the webinar audience wants a true multi-use trail, with equestrians, hikers, and bikers asking how soon they could start using it. Some of the most popular features were: campgrounds, public art, rest areas with benches and overlooks, restrooms, shaded areas, and educational displays.
After the presentation, one last poll revealed that after hearing all the information presented, 97% of the audience was “excited” about the trial.
In a follow-up interview, we asked Louisa Morris, a key member of the Great Redwood Trail planning team, a number of questions.
With local services strained, we asked how the Great Redwood Trail intends to find staff to patrol and maintain the trail. Morris said, “We are aware that this 316-mile-long trail will lead to additional law enforcement, maintenance, management, and firefighting needs. For the GRT to be a success, these needs will need to be met and proactively addressed/anticipated/staffed. There are many ways this could “roll out.” In terms of how we find trail (GRT) managing partners, there are already many, including the City of Ukiah, City of Willits, the Wildlands Conservancy, Humboldt County, the City of Fortuna, the City of Eureka, and the City of Arcata. There are others in the wings .”
Knowing the potential cost of the staff, facilities, and maintenance will quickly add up, we asked how the Great Redwood Trail Agency would work to find funding for local agencies to do the actual work. Morris told us, “The GRTA, State, and local GRT partners will work together to identify funding sources for all trail phases, from planning and design to construction to long-term operations and maintenance. We are here to help! The State can fund trail partners, but generally, they need to be some kind of government entity or a non-profit with trail experience.”
The success of the Great Redwood Trail will not be measured by it being built but by its longevity. Morris had a bevy of options for immediate funding for the planning process but recognized they were still working on procuring funds into the future. “Right now, the State Coastal Conservancy is the primary GRT funder. Federal transportation funds are also available through Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program (ATP), for non-motorized trails that serve as transportation corridors. There are other GRT funding sources; the Master Plan will provide a comprehensive list of places to secure funds for all aspects of the GRT. As far as perpetual funding for GRT operations and maintenance, we are figuring that out (good question).”
With so much of the Great Redwood Trail being located in far-flung places, we asked how planners will provide consistent operations and maintenance in the backcountry, Morris told us that similar to California Coastal Trails, partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management, California State Parks, and other conservation organizations are often used as a resource for these rural environs.
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