Soapbox

The Great Redwood Trail would be great for North Coast

A bird is silhouetted as the sun goes down at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary at the north end of Humboldt Bay.
A bird is silhouetted as the sun goes down at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary at the north end of Humboldt Bay. Sacramento Bee file

As an environmental advocate, I’m often accused of always saying “no” – no to plastic bags, no to plastic straws, no to offshore oil drilling, etc.

What gets lost is that it’s actually saying “yes” – yes to clean water, yes to healthy beaches, yes to letting whales and birds live undrenched by oil. Still, you can imagine what a joy it is to have a bill put forward that offers the chance to say a resounding “yes!”

 
Opinion

I’m referring to Senate Bill 1029 by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, to establish the “Great Redwood Trail” from San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay.

As a 20-year resident of Humboldt County and a part-time resident of San Francisco, I’m thrilled by the idea of a 300-mile trail connecting the two – not only for my own selfish reasons, but because it would be such a gift to the people of this state. The Great Redwood Trail will open up new worlds to residents and visitors alike, showcase rivers and redwoods and deliver people to stunning Humboldt Bay, where further adventures (and oysters) await.

Sure, some people will argue that to transform the old train tracks into a trail says “no” to the railroad reopening some day; the North Coast Railroad Authority would dissolve. But our love of trains is not the issue.

The issue is one of use and benefits. During its heyday, the track through the Eel River Canyon cost more to maintain than any track in the U.S. The unstable terrain and heavy weather caused regular landslides, killing three in 1953.

Let’s move forward. The new trail will bring economic benefits to the North Coast, where rural towns need such growth. Outdoor recreation already brings in more than $92 billion a year to California, nearly 700,000 jobs with more than $30 billion in wages and more $6 billion in local and state tax revenues.

Of course, the issue of money is also what could keep all this from happening. The North Coast Railroad is more than $8 million in debt and could well go bankrupt within a few months, costing us the opportunity to protect a treasured public right-of-way.

We need California’s leaders to help find funding to buy out the debt and help transform the long-dead rail line into another success story.

Jennifer Savage is California policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for protecting the world’s oceans and beaches. She can be contacted at jsavage@surfrider.org.

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