The Arcata & Mad River rail corridor | Images courtesy of Hank Seemann

Humboldt County has trail fever and the only prescription is, well, more trails!

The Cities of Arcata and Blue Lake are making progress on the Annie & Mary Trail, a vision that’s been in the works for over 20 years to connect the two cities via the Arcata-Mad River rail corridor.

After receiving an Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant in 2017, the City of Blue Lake is gearing up to complete phase one of the project — the half mile long portion of trail which runs through the town.

Friends of the Annie & Mary Rail Trail Board Member Ingrid Kosek is excited to see some progress being made on this project, which she has been a part of since 1997. The last train operated on that track in 1995 and two years later, after the rails and ties were removed for salvage, Friends of the Annie & Mary Rail Trail formed.

“It has been a long, slow struggle,” Kosek told the Outpost. “They took out the track and we thought we could just build a trail. But it wasn’t that easy.”

One of the challenges was working with the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) regulations, Kosek said. But in 2008 the NCRA passed a resolution approving multi-modal use for the rail line. The next big victory came with the passage of Senate Bill 1029, known as the Great Redwood Trail Act, which aims to turn the North Coast railroad line into a trail through Northern California — which would include the Annie & Mary Trail.

Not only is Kosek happy about the progress on a project she has been working towards for a long time, but also, as a Blue Lake resident, she’s excited about the improvements to her town.

“It’ll preserve the railroad corridor to start with. That’s a big part of the history of the town,” Kosek said. She also says it will provide a safer route through town for pedestrians, bicyclists, people in wheelchairs. And it will create a better path for those who travel to work at the Blue Lake Casino.

‘Phase 1’ of the trail, through Blue Lake

Humboldt County Director of Environmental Services Hank Seemann says that if all goes well, construction on the Blue Lake portion of the trail should begin this summer. “[There are] some administrative hurdles,” Seemann told the Outpost. “But I’m confident we can do that in next month or two.”

Seemann has been working on the project since the County became involved in 2011. But he says the County’s efforts have recently been diverted to advancing the Humboldt Bay Trail, which has made a lot of progress. Arcata completed their portion of the trial in 2017, Eureka completed the Waterfront Trail portion in 2018, and the final section is one step closer to completion after receiving recommendation for an ATP grant in December.

Seemann thinks the momentum from the Bay Trail will help advance the A&M trail, especially since the two will be connected. However, Caltrans had also applied for the ATP grant to complete Phase two of the A&M trail — the section that would run between Blue Lake and Glendale — and they did not receive the recommendation.

This was a disappointment, both Seemann and Kosek said, and it presents a potential roadblock in the project. But the agencies involved plan to pursue alternative funding. Plus, the completion of the Blue Lake and Arcata portions will likely increase the chances of ATP funding in the future. (This is what happened with the Bay Trail, for example.)

Section of the proposed trail though Arcata

The city of Arcata is still in the planning stage for their leg of the trail, which would run from Sunset Avenue to the Valley West. Arcata received a grant from the Caltrans Sustainable Communities Program which includes funding for public outreach and planning for the project.

The Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA) has partnered with the City of Arcata to help with this planning stage. RCAA Natural Resources Director Emily Sinkhorn said that this project is aligned with a lot of the City’s goals, including promoting sustainable transportation and connecting downtown Arcata to the more isolated areas of town.

“[This is] a really important project to connect the vibrant area of Arcata to the rest of the city,” Sinkhorn told the Outpost. “The city really wants to prioritize making a better connection with Valley West.”

Right now it is rather difficult to travel to and from the Valley West and the Aldergrove Industrial Park without using a car. Although people can ride a bike on West End Road, It can be very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, especially at night. There is no shoulder and a lot of big logging trucks drive down that road.

“A lot of people work in that area,” Sinkhorn said. “A trail connection could open it up for bicyclists.”

The city of Arcata is holding a public workshop on the Annie & Mary Trail on Monday, Feb. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the D Street Neighborhood Center, located at 1301 D Street in Arcata. All are encouraged to attend and share their input.

For those who can’t make it, the City encourages you to share your thoughts on the online survey.