Despite efforts to portray it as insignificant, the North Coast Rail Authority’s unanimous appointment of a broad-based NCRA Humboldt Bay (Trail) Citizens’ Committee is unprecedented. That committee will study and make recommendations regarding the Eureka to Arcata/Fairhaven corridor, specifically on increasing trail use, improving corridor maintenance (the bay levy) and steps for resuming rail service. The committee is expected to report back about this November.
It is technically accurate that the July 11 NCRA board meeting in the supes’ chambers in Eureka did not endorse the original bay trail proposal wording as is. However, it did endorse its basic concept. Indeed, a citizen’s committee now has a mandate to propose ways to increase trails in the corridor, among other objectives. The rail service resumption provision was added after extensive discussion in a dramatic show of democracy at work. Arriving at this delicate compromise allowed all parties to save face and still move forward.
The new citizens’ committee was confirmed to have the implicit endorsement of the NCRA board to propose concrete steps on moving forward with the concept of the bay trail. This is the closest the NCRA has gotten to endorsement of a possible bay trail. The NCRA board may choose to agree or disagree with the findings of its citizen’s committee. However, given plans are to include a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the committee’s findings could be very influential in society at large. That could make it difficult for the NCRA board to avoid accommodating those findings, as long as they are well prepared and considered. Heretofore, the citizen’s movement behind the bay trail has been anything, if not thorough and thoughtful. The citizen forces demanding the bay trail will continue to be felt. Many now believe the bay trail’s momentum could be unstoppable.
It was remarkable that the NCRA resolution authorizing the NCRA Humboldt Bay (Trail) Citizen’s Committee was unanimous. It followed the unanimous support for a bay trail citizen committee by the Humboldt supes. Both were testament to the impressive array of support expressed for trails at the respective meetings. The NCRA board clearly heard the citizen support for concept of the committee, which was formally presented by the Humboldt County Public Works Dept. and also endorsed by assemblyman Wes Chesbro. The compromise appears to be the best of all worlds, enabling all visions to be explored and contemplated, including the path to resumption of active rail service. This could be a precedent setting way for citizens to coalesce in order to move beyond traditional positions.
This year’s bay trail movement is led by an ad-hoc set of local businesspersons and other citizens. It was born out of the consciousness raising of the Eel River Trails Association (ERTA) last year. It was the ERTA, which collected over 10,500 petition signatures for railbanking the NCRA corridor from Willits to Humboldt Bay, enabling an interim, non-motorized trail. The proposed bay trail between Eureka and Arcata would be a wonderful first step. Also, it would not preclude an east-west rail connection to Humboldt Bay, should the east-west rail concept be feasible and bring rail with trail. However, informed observers realize that the annual maintenance expense of a million dollar/mile in the Eel River canyon makes resumption of rail service to the south unsustainable with current technology.
Thus, the effort at a “Grand Compromise” by the bay trail advocates is showing legs. Newspapers may slant articles against news of progress towards the development of an Arcata to Eureka trail. However, they cannot change the hearts of the hundreds and thousands of Humboldt citizens who want safe trails to go to town and everywhere else we need to go. The need is not new, but the belief that we can achieve a non-motorized trail from Arcata and Eureka is catching on.
Local government is showing that it is listening. Back-to-back unanimous endorsements of the NCRA Humboldt Bay (Trail) Citizens’ Committee by both the Humboldt supervisors and the NCRA board is indeed very impressive. Much remains to be done, but the air is heavy with expectation for progress on trails in Humboldt within our lifetimes.
Founder, Eel River Trails