A future Loleta, as transformed by the Great Redwood Trail and envisioned in the Great Redwood Trail Draft Master Plan.

Two and a half years after Gov. Gavin Newsom officially brought the Great Redwood Trail Agency to life, that state body today unveiled a first draft of its master plan – the document that will guide efforts to transform the old railroad line from Humboldt to Marin County into a continuous 300-mile hiking, biking and equestrian trail and, some hope, a major tourist attraction.

“We live in a big part of California,” writes state Sen. Mike McGuire in an introduction to the agency’s new, 586-page Draft Master Plan. “Big trees. Big skies. Big waves. And big dreams.”

“This is what the Great Redwood Trail is all about.”

Map of the line. Click to enlarge.

The document amounts to a sort of giant to-do list for the entire project, or at least from the Mendocino-Sonoma County line north to Blue Lake. (The southern section of the trail is under the direct control of a different agency —  Sonoma-Marin Area Transit, which runs commuter trains in those counties.)

It includes designs for possible amenities which might be located along the length of the trail, including welcome centers and bathrooms and campgrounds. It has drafts of the types of signage that will be installed. It calculates the annual economic benefit of the trail to be $102.5 million annually, and it breaks down that figure by jurisdiction. (Humboldt stands to gain $28.8 million in tourism revenue, it figures, and an additional $20 million in transportation and health benefits.)

Perhaps most importantly, the Draft Master Plan prioritizes action on certain sections of the trail. What sections should be built first? Which are most feasible to build, and which confer the most benefit? A few of those top-priority sections are here in Humboldt County, including an extension of the Humboldt Bay Trail all the way down to Scotia and up to Blue Lake.

Perhaps more surprisingly: The agency is also listing a stretch of the remote, geology-challenged Eel River Canyon — from Island Mountain to Alderpoint to Fort Seward — as a “Tier One” priority.

In this vision, Alderpoint — just half an hour from Garberville and Highway 101 — would serve as a hub for the very first nature-centric stretch of the Great Redwood Trail. Campgrounds and river access could be located on a 30-acre parcel just outside town that the Great Redwood Trail Agency owns. There would be possibility of “trail-oriented development including lodging, retail and dining opportunities.” And though much of this of the Eel River section of the trail would be unpaved, meaning unfriendly to cyclists, the Draft Plan envisions a possible bicycle loop trail between Alderpoint and Fort Seward, just downriver.

A future Fort Seward.

It doesn’t sound terribly like Alderpoint as it is, but at least some of the locals are pretty stoked. The Great Redwood Trail Agency’s press release about the Draft Master Plan quotes a couple of them:

Sterling Kercher, Alderpoint volunteer Fire Chief, logger, builder, and local landowner, said the trail is “a good thing for the community to give them the opportunity to make some money. It’s a community thing, to unite us and to bring people together.” 

Equitable access to the Eel River Canyon and beyond is attractive to locals and visitors alike, including Shannon Stillwell, Alderpoint volunteer firefighter and multi-generational resident.  

“How can we enjoy the Eel River Canyon if we can’t see it?” Stillwell asked. “Our waterways are God-given, and I want my grandkids to be able to hike up the canyon where their ancestors lived and enjoy the natural landscape.” 

Elaine Hogan, the Great Redwood Trail Agency’s executive director, told the Outpost today that the Alderpoint-Fort Seward section of the trail scored high in the priority list for a few reasons. It’s close to major roads, it has less bridge and tunnel damage than other areas of the Eel River Canyon’s old train right of way, and the agency’s assets — including that 30-acre parcel and the old Fort Seward Depot, pictured above — could be redone as tourist attractions with relative ease.

Still, Hogan said, other “Tier One” areas, including the Humboldt Bay Trail extension, will likely get more attention, at least until partnerships or money can be found to take it on.

“[The draft plan] is a really fluid document, in terms of prioritization,” Hogan said.

The Great Redwood Trail Draft Master Plan is currently being circulated for public comment. If you have a laptop or a desktop computer, you should really download the thing and scroll through it. Here’s the direct link. It’s beautifully produced, and it thinks through an enormous range of questions regarding this ambitious project.

Comments on the plan are due June 3. Instructions on how to comment are available at this link.

And next week the agency will be hosting an open house on the Draft Master Plan at Eureka’s Sequoia Conference Center (901 Myrtle Ave.). It’ll be on Tuesday, April 9, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and Hogan tells us there’ll be tons of exhibits and people on hand to explain things and take your questions.