The proposed Fickle Hill Segment of the Arcata Ridge Trail, connecting the Arcata Community Forest and Sunny Brae Tract | Images from City of Arcata

After a decade of planning, the Arcata Ridge Trail — a five mile long trail planned to run all the way from Buttermilk Lane to West End Road  — is one step closer to reality, after the Arcata City Council unanimously approved plans for the final trail segment needed to complete the project.

This final leg, called the Fickle Hill segment, will consist of about 1,600 feet of unpaved trail that will cross Fickle Hill Road, connecting existing trail networks in the Sunny Brae and Arcata Community Forest. Presented will three potential options, the council approved city staff’s “preferred crossing.”

The relatively small portion of trail will run near several private properties and some Fickle Hill residents have expressed concern over safety, privacy and environmental impacts, and a group of residents have even sued the City over the proposed trail route, saying it would would impact their water supply.

Uri Driscoll, one of the residents who filed the lawsuit, says the trail would run too close to a well shared by six families in the neighborhood. “We want to make sure that our system is protected,” Driscoll told the Outpost in a recent phone interview. “It will definitely affect the water system. It’s a steep slope and it’s a very dangerous road.”

During the council meeting on Wednesday night, Arcata Community Development Director David Loya said that the City has held multiple neighborhood meetings and came up with the alternative crossing designs to address some of these concerns. Though he did not comment specifically on the ongoing litigation, Loya said that the preferred design being presented to the council would have no impact on the water quality. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review also found no significant environmental impacts for the project.

Addressing some of the safety concerns, Loya said that the Fickle Hill Road crosswalk will include yield signs and arrows and a warning light 100 feet in front of the crossing. The County — which owns Fickle Hill Road —is also considering lowering the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, Loya said.

Detailed design of the Fickle Hill crossing

Many community members commented during the meeting, most of them in support of the Fickle Hill segment and the long-due completion of the Arcata Ridge Trail. Some Fickle Hill residents felt that the project would improve safety, saying that many people already hike and bike on the skid trails in that area and there needs to be a way for them to safely cross the road.

“That literally is my backyard, so I just want to say YIMBY — yes in my backyard,” Melissa Hardy said to the council during the meeting. “Please do not delay in approving  this project, which has been years in the making. People are not going to stop using this trail. They’re going to continue using the trial and instead walk on the road to make that connection.”

Some community members also expressed concern over increased traffic in the area, worried that people will treat the Fickle Hill crossing as a trailhead and park on the road to access the trail. Loya said that the City plans to do whatever it can to mitigate that activity and plans to install signs letting people know that this access point is not a trail head. The City will also place boulders in front of the nearby maintenance access area, to prevent people from parking there.

“I do want to address that and emphasize that this is not a trailhead,” Loya said during the meeting. “It is marked that it is not a trailhead. People should not be driving and parking up there. They should not be dropping off bikes. This is a trail access point and it should not be used any other way than for crossing and accessing directly on a bike.”

With council’s approval of the project, City staff will now work on identifying revenue sources for the project, which could come from the city’s Forest Fund, grants and donations and funding from the Measure A tax.

The project’s fate will also depend on the results of the ongoing litigation from the Fickle Hill residents surrounding the water source issue. 

If all goes well, Loya told the Outpost, he is hopeful that construction on the trail segment could begin as early as this summer.