Construction of the last unfinished stretch of the Humboldt Bay Trail is currently scheduled to begin in the summer or fall of 2021. | Image courtesy Humboldt County.


In another major step forward for the Humboldt Bay Trail project, the Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved the purchase of two shoreline parcels along Hwy. 101 near the Indianola cutoff between Arcata and Eureka.

The negotiated purchase price of $600,000 was a topic of some discussion during today’s meeting. Deputy Director of Environmental Services Hank Seemann explained that the figure is based on an appraised value that factored in revenue from three billboard leases.

Funds for the purchase will come out of $2 million that have already been allocated by the California Transportation Commission for acquiring rights-of-way for this project.

This property acquisition will establish one of three right-of-way agreements needed to close the existing four-mile trail gap between Eureka and Arcata. Negotiations for the other two are in progress, Seemann explained today.

Once completed, the non-motorized trail will extend from the southern end of Eureka to central Arcata. 

Aerial view of the parcels as they looked last May. One of the billboards pictures here has since toppled over, and its remnants were removed permanently.

In his presentation to the board, Seemann shared aerial views of the property that reveal deteriorating conditions of the railroad and adjacent shoreline, where erosion has created a significant flood hazard. The county is proposing to repair this stretch of shoreline with “natural shoreline infrastructure,” Seemann said, explaining that restoration could involve expansion of the existing salt marsh.

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass was the first to question the $600,000 negotiated purchase price during today’s meeting. The sellers of the property — co-owners Tom McMurray, his wife Gretha McMurray and AllPoints Signs owner Geoff Wills — collect a portion of lease revenue from the advertising firm Outfront Media for the three remaining billboards on the property. Bass recalled the recent board debate over a fallen billboard south of Eureka and asked whether the estimated $30,000 in annual revenue from the signs is guaranteed.

Seemann acknowledged that future revenue is uncertain, though he reminded the board that the property acquisition is necessary for completion of the trail project. The billboards are incidental. The lease agreements for the signs extends through Aug. 1, 2043. Whatever revenue the county does end up collecting — whether it’s the $30,000-per-year that’s projected or something less — will be earmarked for helping to offset Bay Trail maintenance costs and expanding the regional trail network.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson voiced support for the purchase, “fully acknowledging that the likelihood of a full term of these structures is pretty unlikely” considering the condition they’re in. “We’re taking the chance that they’re going to stand til 2043,” he said, adding that he’d be surprised if they all last until even 2023. Regardless, Wilson said, “We need to move forward with the project.”

During the public comment period, Karen Underwood with the Humboldt Trails Council encouraged the board to approve the property acquisition, saying trail users are “so looking forward” to completion of project.

Uri Driscoll called in to voice concern about maintaining the option for future rail use along the North Coast Railroad Authority right-of-way. “I’d like to hear a commitment to replacing the rail,” he said. The long debt-saddled NCRA was all-but-obliterated two years back with passage of Sen. Mike McGuire’s “Great Redwood Trail Act,” which aims to create a 300-mile path between San Francisco and Humboldt Bay.

When the matter came back to the board, First District Supervisor Rex Bohn took a turn questioning the $600,000 purchase price. Seemann explained that the figure was based on a fair-market-value assessment that divided the projected annual net income of $30,000 by a capitalization rate of 5 percent.

Satisfied with the math, Bohn made a motion to accept staff recommendations and Wilson seconded the motion. The vote passed unanimously. 

Diagram showing the proposed trail alignment, including a little bypass around one of the billboards, as well as the property boundaries.

The completed trail will run along the bay shoreline north of the Brainard mill site.