Photo: Heidi Walters

The Department of Public Works sends along some bummer-inducing news: A new gate is going to go up blocking vehicular access to the McKay Tract trail entrance by Redwood Acres.

If you’ve ever been out to this semi-secret, not-yet-so-legal spot, what you probably did was hang a right off of Harris Avenue down a dirt road right before the fairgrounds, then travel down a little ways to a small parking lot. You and your dogs then walked the old logging road back in the the mystical enchanted wonderland that is the McKay.

But Public Works — which is in the process of acquiring the McKay chunk by chunk from Green Diamond — says that some people are conducting “dumping and other inappropriate activities” back in the tract, and so they’re closing that dirt road to vehicular traffic at Harris.

Though it will may all be public working forestland soon, and a Valhalla for hiking and biking and other outdoor activity, the McKay is still not yet technically open for business. Hiking back there is illegal but tolerated. Will that still be the case after the new gate goes up Wednesday? Can you park at Redwood Acres and walk back from there? Public Works doesn’t tell, and the Outpost doesn’t ask.

[UPDATE: Hank Seemann, deputy director of public works, writes: “The statement that it will all be public working forestland soon’ is not factually accurate.  There may be future additions to the property acquired in August 2014 to establish the community forest if funding becomes available, but no transactions are currently in the works.  The additions would happen on the south side near Ridgewood Heights.  Green Diamond plans to retain their property east of Ryan Creek]

From the Humboldt County Department of Public Works:

Humboldt County Public Works continues to focus on developing plans and designs for legal access points and the trail network within the community forest.  Access points need to provide adequate parking and ingress/egress to trails and avoid conflicts with adjacent properties.  The trail network needs to be planned based on careful considerations to accommodate the landscape (topography, streams, vegetation) and avoid user conflicts.  Until suitable access points are developed, the community forest is not formally open to the public.  We appreciate the public’s patience and understanding that appropriate access points and trails are necessary before the community forest is ready to be used by the public.

Public Works is developing a Trail Plan that will identify the expected access points and trail network and describe the needed improvements and construction work.  The Trail Plan will need to go through environmental review (compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act) before on-the-ground trail-building can begin.  The draft Trail Plan is expected to be complete in early summer and the public will have a chance to review the draft plan before it is finalized.

An advisory group composed of people from a variety of perspectives and interests meets monthly to provide input to Public Works on the McKay Community Forest.  Meetings are held from 4:00 to 5:00 pm on the second Thursday of the month at the Turf Club at Redwood Acres, and these meetings are open to the public. Agendas and minutes for these meetings are available via the Project web site. 

Following the County’s acquisition of 1,000 acres in August 2014, Green Diamond retained ownership of the remaining portion of the McKay Tract (approximately 6,600 acres), including the main logging road (the R-Line) located on the east side of Ryan Creek.  There is also a private residence situated within the tract, east of Redwood Fields.  Historically, the gate to the main logging road located on Harris Street was kept open, however there has been an ongoing pattern of dumping and other inappropriate activities.  This Wednesday (March 4), Green Diamond and Public Works will begin installing a new gate at the Harris Street entrance and the gate will be kept normally closed to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the property.

Currently, Public Works is devoting all its efforts to developing the Trail Plan.  Later this year, Public Works will initiate preparation of a timber harvest plan and apply for the associated permits.  The earliest that any harvest activities will be conducted is 2016.

Our site reconnaissance efforts as part of the trail planning have identified many outstanding features of the property.  The community forest will provide terrific opportunities for outdoor recreation and activity, education, forest stewardship, and volunteer involvement.  We look forward to the public enjoying and experiencing the community forest as soon as this first phase of planning is complete.

Thank you for your interest and support.