But that, like the trail itself, is a long way off
The first question from the audience at a trail planning workshop in Guerneville last week was whether the proposed lower Russian River bike path will require private property acquisitions.
“Yes, probably,” was the response, but nothing heavy-handed, the audience was assured.
“We’ve never used eminent domain” in other county trail projects such as the Joe Rodota or West County trails, said Sonoma County Regional Parks Project Manager Steve Ehret. “There are a number of ways” to negotiate with owners when a public trail or park project needs real estate, said Ehret. Donations, a market-value purchase or an easement are among available negotiating tools, said Ehret. “We usually start with a conversation.”
Saturday’s workshop was part of a larger conversation now under way on where to put the proposed 19-mile trail envisioned along the Russian River from Forestville’s Mirabel Park area to Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast.
The study will look at the feasibility of that and may find it’s not doable all the way from Forestville to Jenner.
“It could be found that there are sections that aren’t feasible,” said Ehret. “This study will provide a lot more certainty about where this project is going to go.”
A public survey now underway as part of the trail feasibility study has already drawn nearly 400 responses, said County Regional Parks Planner Ken Tam. The survey will continue until June and can be accessed online at LowerRussianRiverTrailStudy.com.
The trail study area includes the communities of Mirabel, Forestville, Hacienda, Summer Home Park, Odd Fellows Park, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Guernewood Park, Vacation Beach, Northwood, Monte Rio, Villa Grande, Mesa Grande, Sheridan, Duncans Mills and Jenner.
The multi-use trail would provide a walking and bicycling alternative for commuters traveling busy River Road and Highway 116, said a county Department of Transportation and Public Works announcement of Saturday’s workshop. A trail would also “add to recreation options in this popular tourism area.”
Skepticism about needing a trail for a west county tourist draw was also part of the conversation. The need for a bike trail “is not a tourism thing,” Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins told Saturday’s audience. As a concept the trail “has been percolating in the community for a long time,” Hopkins told the audience of about 50 people in the Guerneville School community room last Saturday.
At this juncture the trail plan is just “a big, bold, audacious idea,” said Hopkins. “I know there are some concerns about where the heck is this thing going to go.”
Critics say a public trail through the unincorporated and mostly undeveloped west county landscape is also an opportunity for homeless camps to proliferate. “I know these trails can create those kinds of problems,” said Hopkins, whose district includes the West County Trail and most of the Joe Rodota Trail, where homeless camps have been an ongoing problem.
Homeless camping will be illegal and would be monitored and mitigated, officials vowed last week.
Supporters at Saturday’s workshop agreed the trail’s benefits heavily outweigh potential negatives. The trail promises reduced traffic congestion, increased real estate values, greenhouse gas reduction, healthful exercise opportunities and a lot of benefits “that can’t be quantified,” said Jeff Knowles, a spokesman for Alta + Planning and Design, the trail planning consultant hired last year to prepare the feasibility report and recommend a preferred trail alignment plus alternatives.
Study recommendations will include an estimate of specific right-of-way needs, a right-of-way acquisition strategy and a discussion of costs and potential conflicts with private property owners.
Proponents hope the path will be an unbroken “Class 1” trail that gives walkers and bikers a thoroughfare separate from the highway.
“What we’re looking for is a 10-foot wide paved trail,” said Knowles.
Audience makeup on Saturday was what might be expected at a western Sonoma County meeting to plan outdoor recreational infrastructure. A preponderance of seniors showed up, looking fit and capable of the enduring stamina needed to follow a major public works project through the planning process.
The next planning steps include completion of the public survey about where the trail should go and why. The consultant and county parks staff plan to have a preferred trail route (plus alternatives) on paper in June to bring back for discussion.
Best-case projections for actually building the river trail remain a little vague while the planning, acquisition and permitting process unfold. “I can’t imagine a shovel in the ground for the next seven years,” said Knowles, the spokesman for Alta.
Hopkins, mother of three young children, said her kids would likely be adults by the time a river trail is actually in use.