Public outreach meetings start in two weeks to get feedback on a proposed 19-mile-long pedestrian and bike path that would follow the Russian River from Forestville to Jenner.
The proposed “Class 1” paved cycling and pedestrian path would allow hikers and bikers to travel in their own lane, separate from faster-moving motor vehicle traffic on River Road and Highway 116. The trail would provide an alternative commute route for locals, as well as a visitor attraction enhancing the west county’s recreational appeal, according to proponents.
Numerous challenges include private property owner resistance and steep inaccessible landscapes along the river, but the upcoming feasibility meetings will address those issues and any others, said Sonoma County Regional Parks Planner Ken Tam.
This early in the process, “we don’t know the exact alignment, where it would go on the south side or the north side” of the river, Tam said.
“These meetings will get community input. After we get comments, we’ll review them and start looking at details of the alignment,” Tam said.
“Once we have all that compiled, there will be a draft alignment presented with alternative alignments,” said Tam. “Once we have that draft, we’ll present it back to the general public.”
The current study will look at cost estimates, potential right of way acquisitions and funding resources for acquisitions and amenities such as public parking and rest rooms, Tam said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Sonoma County Supervisors hired a public-trail consultant last year to find the most feasible route for a river path connecting Forestville to Highway 1 in Jenner.
Creating a public path separate from the lower river’s often narrow roads and through private property will be a challenge and may be difficult to achieve, according to the study proposal from the consultant Alta + Planning and Design.
County supervisors approved a $664,000 contract agreement with Alta last year to prepare the feasibility report and recommend a preferred trail alignment plus alternatives.
Study recommendations will include a right-of-way acquisition strategy, an estimate of specific right-of-way needs, costs and potential conflicts with private property owners.
A significant component of the trail study involves public outreach, starting with the upcoming public workshops in Guerneville on Tuesday, May 7, at 6 p.m. and again on Saturday, May 11, at 9 a.m. Both meetings are at Guerneville School.
The workshops will solicit input from the public, property owners, interest groups and stakeholders such as the Monte Rio Recreation and Park District, Russian River Recreation and Park District, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and chambers of commerce and visitors bureaus.
The study’s funding includes a $620,000 grant from Caltrans, the state Department of Transportation; $120,000 from the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District; $5,000 from the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation; $5,000 from the Monte Rio Recreation & Park District; and $2,500 from the Russian River Recreation & Parks District. No estimate has been released on what it might ultimately cost to build the trail.
Alta Planning + Design, the study consultant, is getting support from Green Valley Consulting Engineers, W-Trans, Nobel Consultants, Miller Pacific and Peter Baye.
Lower River residents for years have been telling state and county officials to make state Highway 116 safer and more user friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians traveling between Guerneville and Jenner.
The feasibility study “is a great first step toward creating a long-awaited path along this beautiful corridor," said Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins when the state grant was approved. “A bike and pedestrian path would allow those who live in and love west county to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the lower Russian River while safely commuting to school, work or home.”
The multi-use trail would ultimately connect Steelhead Beach Regional Park near Mirabel with Guerneville, Monte Rio and Jenner to provide “non-motorized recreational and alternative transportation to this highly scenic section of the Russian River,” according to a county Capital Projects Plan approved two years ago. The river trail is also part of the Sonoma County Bikeway and Pedestrian Plan approved in 2010.