Map of the Humboldt Bay Trail South segments | Image from the County of Humboldt

Humboldt County is officially one step closer to completing the four-mile section of the Humboldt Bay Trail, which will connect Arcata and Eureka. The project was awarded a $13.3 million Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant on Jan. 30 after receiving the state recommendation for the grant at the end of 2018.

This is the final segment needed to complete the Humboldt Bay Trail, with the City of Arcata completing its portion in 2017 and the Eureka Waterfront Trail reaching completion just over a year ago.

The project has been a collaboration between The Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG), the City of Arcata, City of Eureka, Caltrans and many other agencies. HCAOG Executive Director Marcella Clem told the Outpost that it was not only the collaboration between organizations that helped make this project possible, but also the community support.

Thanks to the Humboldt Bay Trail Fund established by the Humboldt Area Foundation in 2017, the project has gained nearly $300,000 in private contributions. Clem said that level of public financial support is unique and helped give the extra edge needed to secure the grant approval.

“I’ve never heard of anyone else doing that and being successful,” she said.

Clem is also excited because completion of the Bay Trail will allow for completion of the Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project — a plan led by Caltrans and HCAOG to improve highway safety, which includes a new interchange at Indianola.

After initially being against supporting the 101 Corridor Improvement Project, the California Coastal Commission approved it on the condition that a non-motorized trail be constructed as well. With the bay trail on its way, planning for other components of the improvement project can continue.

“This is the last piece,” Clem told the Outpost. “We’re very, very happy.”

There are still some big steps ahead, of course, before construction of the trail can begin. Humboldt County Director of Environmental Services Hank Seemann told the Outpost that one important step will be working with property owners and  obtaining rights-of-way for the private properties the trail will run through.

Area of proposed trail along where eucalyptus trees would be removed | Photo Andrew Goff

The project also needs to acquire licensing agreements from the North Coast Railroad Authority, though the passage of Senate Bill 1029, known as the Great Redwood Trail Act, should make this process a little easier.  

Another important consideration is the impact the trail will have on the wetlands. The Northcoast Regional Water Quality Control Board and California Coastal Commission require a mitigation process to offset the wetland impact. Seemann said that the County is working with Caltrans and the City of Arcata on a collaborative large-scale project to create and enhance existing wetlands.

Development will also require the removal of 40 percent of the eucalyptus trees lining the highway because of the potential danger of the trees releasing limbs and causing injury to trail users. The trail will also require the removal of at least one billboard along highway 101.

Once all the necessary steps have been completed, Seemann said, the County will need to complete final design and engineering plans. If all goes well, construction is expected to begin in 2021.

Seemann said one of the concerns people have had about the trail is the cost. Thirteen million dollars may seem like a lot of money for constructing a trail. Seemann told the Outpost that one of the reasons the cost is higher than other trail projects is because of the proposed use of the rail bridge over the Eureka Slough.

Plans for Eureka Slough segment of the Bay Trail | From the County of Humboldt

The project proposal includes a unique design that would allow for both trail and rail use, making it possible for speeder cars or for a future tourist train to use the railroad. Seemann told the Outpost that this requires the construction of a special deck, which adds significant costs to the project.

Another frequent public concern has to do with the impacts sea level rise will have on the trail. The County has completed a Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report. Seemann said that considerations for sea level rise will be made in the design process and will likely include adaptations to be made in the future.

“It is worth the investment, given what current science says about sea level rise,” Seemann said. “We really looked at compatibility [and] we came to conclusion that we will get decades of use from the trial.”

You can find additional information and Humboldt Bay Trail documents on the Humboldt County website.