Sungnome Madrone: Rail Realism, Trail Respect – April 11, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

A recent article discussed the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), and a trail advocate by the name of Chris Weston. Chris is the newest of a long line of trail advocates here in Humboldt County and he is advocating for the Eel River Trail through the Eel River Canyon. His organization the Eel River Trail Association (ERTA) has collected over 10,000 signatures in a very short period of time, for the concept of a trail through the canyon along the RR right of way.

In general the article was supportive of trail advocates and realistic about future railroad prospects, but it was very harsh on a person working very hard to turn a vision into reality. Chris is not alone in this vision for a trail through the canyon. When I started working to build the Hammond Trail in 1985 I was labeled as a troublemaker and they said that any trail would bring crime and destroy the community. I had a vision as have many others that the Hammond Trail was possible and that trails were important and can improve a community well being and health. It is clear today that the Hammond Trail has benefited McKinleyville, Humboldt County, and all of our visitors. When you use the trail there are no Democrats, no Republicans, just people, adults and kids, bicycling, walking, skating and horse back riding. It is truly a wonderful thing. It takes people of vision, passion, and dedication to make these things happen, against great opposition and personal name-calling.

I was commissioned by the NCRA to inspect the erosion damage through the Eel River Canyon in the 1990s and found that the true cost of opening the line was in the billions, not millions. None of the repair estimates done for the NCRA (ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars) include the costs of cleanup of the river from cars, broken tracks and other wastes, nor the costs of opening up the hundreds of anadromous fish barriers along their right of way. Even more importantly this multi-million dollar effort would still have the tracks crossing landslide after landslide. My estimate of billions includes the true cost of complete cleanup, opening up all access to fish and building clear-span bridges over the landslides so that the tracks could stay open even after harsh winters. Realistically, that will cost several billion dollars, and it is not going to happen.

So, there are many of us (apparently more than 10,000) that have a vision of a trail trough this canyon that would attract visitors from near and far and lead to an excellent transportation alternative, as well as create an economic engine for our communities. Of course all the details are not worked out just as they were not for Hammond in 1986. It took 12 years to secure easements from private landowners to build the “Hole in the Hammond Section” the goes from Murray Road to Vista Point and loops through Widow White Creek.

Details currently known are that trails can change grade, allowing avoidance of slides, while train tracks cannot. Trails can be built in segments, while railroads need the whole line functioning. There is also lots of support for this trail from horse people, hikers, and bicyclists, and from others across the political spectrum. The BLM and National Park Service administer trails elsewhere and possibly could here. The trail construction can reduce erosion and help improve river and fish habitat. The rail corridor cannot simply be abandoned. Concerns expressed by ranchers and neighbors to the trail are valid, and can be mitigated for.

As trail advocates most of us want a complete network of trails within and between our communities, and connections to the communities that neighbor us. We always engage the community, especially the landowners along the trail. We find ways to meet their needs with fencing, landscaping  and other security and waste management needs.

I believe the Eel River Trail is doable and if we have RESPECT for each other along the way we can work out all of the details, meet the landowners concerns, and take the trail from VISION to REALITY.

Sungnome Madrone is a Trinidad resident.


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