After decades of dreaming, planning and lots of work to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, Humboldt County will soon have a paved multi-use trail connecting Eureka and Arcata along the banks of Humboldt Bay.
At a joyous ceremony this afternoon, held atop a berm overlooking the bay from the California Redwood Company sawmill property, state and local officials gathered with community members and other stakeholders to celebrate the start of construction on Humboldt Bay Trail South, a project that will connect the gap between the Eureka Waterfront Trail and the southern terminus of Humboldt Bay Trail North, near the Bracut Industrial Park.
Leading off the ceremony was Hank Seemann, Humboldt County’s deputy director of public works, who everyone in attendance seemed to agree has been one of the primary driving forces behind the project.
“It has been a long journey to get to this point,” Seemann said, triggering a round of knowing laughter from the assembled crowd.
After noting that everyone was standing on un-ceded Wiyot territory, he went on to note that, until about 25 years ago, most of the shoreline development between Eureka and Arcata was dedicated almost exclusively to cars, the railroad and private industry. But the community had a vision to restore public access to the shoreline while connecting people with each other and the natural world.
That vision has largely come to fruition, Seemann said, thanks to work from employees and officials at the City of Arcata, the City of Eureka and, lately, the County of Humboldt, not to mention “vital support from our community and state partners.”
Construction of the trail is set to begin next month and be completed before the end of 2024. The main contractor is Arcata-based McCullough Construction. Ghirardelli Associates, which has its headquarters in San Jose and an office in McKinleyville, will provide construction management services while international engineering firm GHD, Inc., will provide engineering support.
The cost of construction on this section of trail alone will amount to nearly $20 million, according to Brandon Larson, deputy director for planning and local assistance with Caltrans. Funding has been provided by the California Transportation Commission, the State Coastal Conservancy and Caltrans District 1.
The majority of this new trail segment will be situated between the defunct railroad and Highway 101, while a one-mile portion will be placed atop the levee around the bay side of the Brainard Mill site. This route was made possible thanks to an easement from Green Diamond Resource Company to the county.
Construction will involve widening the railroad prism, major modifications to the Eureka Slough railroad bridge, construction of three new trail bridges and removal of the northernmost stretch of eucalyptus trees along the highway. The project will also entail what the county calls “urgent repairs” to erosion damage along the railroad as well as raising the elevation of the railroad between Brainard and Bracut to address flood hazards.
“I have to say, being here today, my face hurts from smiling,” said Humboldt County’s Fourth District supervisor, Natalie Arroyo. “This is such an exciting moment.”
She said that, looking around the crowd, she recognized “the faces of so many people who have been essential to making this happen,” including folks she worked with on the Humboldt Trails Council and the Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA).
“And now here we are today about to build this trail, and I could not be more thrilled,” Arroyo said.
Fifth District Humboldt County Supervisor Steve Madrone, who also serves as the vice-chair of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, said it has been 37 years since RCAA, the County of Humboldt and the state Coastal Conservancy formed a partnership to start looking at trails in this region.
“And it was in 1997 that our first report on possible trail options around the bay was put together,” Madrone said.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn recalled riding his Schwinn bicycle from Eureka to Arcata to meet up with a girlfriend some 55 years ago. He rode home along Old Arcata Road and said he looks forward to a better route. Bohn also thanked state Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood for being “so instrumental” in getting trails built.
Jason Liles, McGurie’s chief of staff, was on hand. He noted that his boss was attending a wind energy hearing in Sacramento and thus, regrettably, could not attend the trail groundbreaking ceremony. He went on to say that in his office there’s a rule that you should only thank elected officials because they get their feelings hurt if you don’t. But in this case, he made an exception.
“I’m just gonna thank one person in particular on behalf of Senator McGuire, and I’d like to see a big round of applause for Hank Seemann,” Liles said, and the crowd complied with enthusiasm.
Caryl Hart, chair of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, emphasized the economic benefits of trails, and she noted that this trail will eventually be part of her agency’s namesake, a planned 320-mile multi-use rail-to-trail project connecting San Francisco and Humboldt bays.
“One of the things that I hear most often is, ‘Will [the Great Redwood Trail] happen in my lifetime?’” Hart said. “I’m so glad that I can say, ‘Go to Humboldt Bay. You will see the Great Redwood Trail as it is being created, as it is connecting around the bay … and that is thanks to all of you.”
Several other folks addressed the assembled crowd. Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, for example, said, “This is what government looks like when it is following the deep will of your people.”
Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery also commended the broad community collaboration and cracked a joke: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait for Eureka to be hooked up to Arcata,” Slattery said, getting a big laugh.
Karen Underwood, a board member with the Humboldt Trails Council, said research indicates that when trail gaps between two cities get connected, use of the trails can increase from 40 to 80 percent, but this connection will likely be an outlier.
“After 25 years of waiting Humboldt Trails Council believes that usage of these bay trails will more than double,” Underwood said.
At the conclusion of the ceremony there was a ribbon tying — rather than the traditional ribbon cutting — to emphasize the upcoming new connection between Arcata and Eureka.
Youngsters Asher Bergel (son of Eureka Mayor Kim Bergell) and Nigella Bauer (daughter of Third District Humboldt County Supervisor Mike
McGuire Wilson), who was in Washington, D.C.) did the honors, hooking the two ends of the ribbon together, but only after noting that the project has been in the works since before they were born.