Ties stacked up yesterday afternoon. Photo/video: Andrew Goff.

When word filtered in yesterday that the cyclone fence surrounding the waterfront side of the Balloon Track had come down and heavy machinery was in there ripping up the old railroad tracks, your Lost Coast Outpost, like many of its readers, temporarily didn’t know what the hell was going on.

But we got that all cleared up this morning with a call to Miles Slattery, head of the City of Eureka Parks and Recreation Department, who said, essentially: Hey, dummies — did you forget we were building a trail along the waterfront?

We had, kind of! One tends to tune out years and years of reverie and yammering, and it takes something like a great big backhoe smashing up concrete sidewalk — as one was doing back there this morning — to shake you awake and let you know that it’s time to pay attention again.

Purple: Hikshari Trail. Blue: Waterfront Trail “Phase A,” already completed. Green and yellow: Phase B and C, respectively — due to be completed this year.

The entire Waterfront Trail project, Slattery told us, is currently scheduled to be finished before the end of the year. By 2018, the city of Eureka will feature a nearly unbroken pedestrian walkway stretching from the Herrick Avenue overpass south of town, past the Eureka Slough on the other side, underneath the bridge and around the corner to the Open Door Health Center on Tydd Street. 

The work that began yesterday represents the start of “Phase B” of the trail, which will run between the Palco Marsh and the public square at the foot of C Street. This section of trail will parallel Waterfront Drive, and most of it will run either alongside the Schmidbauer Lumber mill property or through one section of the Balloon Track, where one of the disused rail lines was ripped up yesterday to make way. 

Slattery said that the railroad ties and such will be stored by the Timber Heritage Association until such time as freight or passenger rail service is restored to the North Coast. (No trains have run on those tracks for the last 20 years.) The cyclone fencing that was removed yesterday will be put up on the other side of the future trail, leaving a slice of the Balloon Track open for through pedestrian trail.

The Arkley family, owners of the Balloon Track, gave the city easements for the trail and related construction free of charge, Slattery said, which amounted to a big savings on the $4.6 million in grant funding that the city is expected to spend on this year’s trail work.

“Giving us all that easement was huge,” he said. “It would have cost us at least $100,000, including the construction easements.”

Mockup of the salt water marsh pedestrian causeway that will soon grace the waterfront near Target, with a view of mountains to the east. Image: City of Eureka.

“Phase B” is expected to be relatively smooth and painless, and should wrap up in a month or two. The Waterfront Trail’s “Phase C,” which will run along the Eureka Boardwalk, along Halvorsen Park, behind the Blue Ox to Target and underneath the freeway to Tydd Street, is going to be a bit trickier, despite the fact that long stretches of it are already in place. Much of this portion of the trail will pass through and over untamed sections of the waterfront, and bridges other expensive bits of infrastructure will have to be built — including the causeway sketched above.

Still, barring any extreme weather Slattery says the work will be all done by Nov. 1. At that point, you’ll be able to perambulate upwards of six miles along the bay and almost never share your path with a car. 

Next up: The 3.8-mile “Bay Trail South,” which will connect Eureka’s trail system to the Arcata’s at Bracut. If/when the County of Humboldt ever builds that, you’ll be able to bike damn near all the way from Moonstone Beach to Elk River on dedicated non-motorized trails. Pretty neat!