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Local News

Great Redwood Trail faces skeptics

 A section of railroad track running alongside a river.
A section of railroad track alongside the Eel River, from Highway 162 leading to Round Valley.

Supporters of a planned 312-mile trail along an abandoned railroad track from the Humboldt Bay to the San Francisco Bay are looking forward to health and economic benefits, while skeptics worry about long-term planning.

The Great Redwood Trail met with stiff opposition during an informational item at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, though supporters continue to insist it will be an economic boon to the area.

And supervisors formed an ad hoc committee to respond to a scorching Grand Jury report about the county’s failure to fund a human resources director and implement basic workplace protocols.

Supervisors Ted Williams and Dan Gjerde are tasked with recommending how the full board should respond to detailed findings about a workplace culture that’s been described as toxic and riddled with favoritism and bullying. In a 45-page report released last month, the Grand Jury said that having 19 HR directors over the past 25 years has led to a lack of long-time strategic planning and institutional knowledge. Now most county departments evaluate employee performance using a perfunctory scale of 1-5 and a video provided by a contractor. Supervisor John Haschak summarized a few of the challenges, saying that he and Supervisor McGourty spent “six months or a year,” on a previous ad hoc committee, trying to find a new HR director. Deputy CEO Cherie Johnson is now overseeing the department, in addition to her other duties. “I understand that that position is not funded anymore,” Haschak noted; “So that’s kind of a technical problem that we’ll have to deal with.”

In a later item that drew lively discussion in spite of an hours’-long delay, Louisa Morris, a project manager with the California Coastal Conservancy working on the Great Redwood Trail, told the Board that she’s collecting input on the master plan for the project. She said an economic impact report anticipates $100 million annually in benefits to Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties. “These come from increased economic activity, as well as community savings in transportation and health,” she said. “So there are three areas of benefit.”

Carrie Vau, a landowner in the Ukiah Valley, was skeptical, saying, “I predict what will happen is, all the private property owners, including myself, who are along the trail, are going to fence in the entire trail…it’s going to be a single corridor that’s lined on both sides by fences.” She assured the Board that she would install razor wire on top of the fence on her property. “I don’t think this is going to be as great a trail as you think it's going to be, when you have all the private property owners,” she concluded. “They’re going to have to protect themselves.”

Devon Boer, the Executive Director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, wanted to know how the trail would be funded in the long term. “I think there is going to be a burden placed on private property owners” especially in the Ukiah Valley, she said. “Because that’s key production agricultural property.”

Morris said the trail will be a collaboration with other agencies, like the sections of the trail that already exist in the City of Ukiah. “We will not open any segment of the Great Redwood Trail unless we identify a partner that will plan, get the permits, construct, and commit to doing perpetual operations and maintenance,” she declared, saying it would be similar to the California Coastal Trail, which she was also involved with. “No segments of the California Coastal Trail are opened without having a very responsible and capable partner who will take on the operations and maintenance, which includes sometimes responding to emergency situations,” she acknowledged.

Williams invoked scenarios involving stabbings, shootings, wildfires, and kidnappings, which Haschak suggested might be hyperbolic. But Williams wanted to make sure the state continues to fund the project once it gets started. “I think we’re really underestimating the potential impact,” he said. “If you’re bringing thousands of people through here, you will have problems. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It will be a bad idea if you’re relying on volunteers to deal with those negative consequences. I think the message from our county to the state needs to be, if the state is going to do this trail, and it seems like they’re going to, they need to own responsibility for it. The rescue personnel, the phone service along it,the litter pickup, the restrooms. Everything that’s entailed. Because you can’t put us down as a partner and have the county pick up more responsibility. We can’t do what we’re supposed to do today.”

Morris said some suggestions from concerned parties will already be included in the master plan, like CalFire’s suggestion that campfires be prohibited during fire season. Neil Davis, the Director of Community Services for the City of Ukiah, said he believes the trail is not the potential tinderbox some of its detractors make it out to be.

“Our teams have been able to do fuel management that has not happened prior to our taking over the project,” he said of the stretch of trail alongside the track in parts of Ukiah. “Particularly as we move from it being something that has been unmanaged and unmaintained into a place where we can maintain it. Not only does it give us the opportunity to maintain it and keep weeds down, it actually ends up providing a fire break through the center of the county.”

And Supervisor Maureen Mulheren, a longtime supporter of the trail, pointed out that the concept is hardly unheard of. Reeling off the names of trails like the California Coastal Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail, she said, “This is not something that is earth shaking and ground breaking. There are trails all across the country that have already been built. So I don’t think that we need to reinvent the wheel. There’s models that work in other areas, and we can figure out what is working and what isn’t.”

The next community meeting about the Great Redwood Trail in Mendocino County will be on July 27th at 5:30 pm at Brutocao Cellars in Hopland.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.