This March, California State Senator Mike McGuire introduced the Great Redwood Trail Act (SB 1029) to simultaneously resolve the festering debacle of the North Coast Railroad Authority and advance a vision for a world class trail network for the Eel River Canyon and the North Coast.
It is profoundly important that the California Legislature is moving at last to abolish the North Coast Railroad Authority. Over decades of reckless mismanagement, the NCRA failed in its mission, abused the public trust, and threatened the Eel River with its plan to bring back 19th century engineering approaches to 21st century environmental challenges.
It is, however, even more important that we are moving toward doing the right thing for the Eel River. The proposal to railbank the railway right of way for use as a public hiking, biking, and equestrian trail offers tremendous promise. If we can pull it off, the Great Redwood Trail will be one of the world’s premier destination hiking and biking trails.
To achieve the promise of the Great Redwood Trail, however, is going to be a bigger job than it appears, and it doesn’t look small. It will take a lot of time and careful work to turn the failed railroad right of way — where it still exists — into a trail without harming the river it runs along. It will also take a whopping huge pile of money.
Friends of the Eel River’s support for this bill is offered in the expectation that the people of California, through the legislature and relevant agencies, will do for the Great Redwood Trail Agency what we failed to do for the NCRA:
- Give the agency a real, meaningful mission that will make a difference for the North Coast;
- Make it clear that environmental stewardship and good neighbor relations are critical mandates to achieve the GRTA’s mission;
- Exercise the active oversight necessary to ensure the GRTA stays on track to achieve that mission; and
- Ensure the GRTA is funded to accomplish its mission.
For our part, we intend to help convene a group of stakeholders to support this effort — but also to watchdog the GRTA and ensure protection of the Eel River.
An absolutely essential part of doing the right thing for the Eel River is cleaning up the railroad’s mess. We care less about which agency finally gets the toxic cleanups done than that it be done as well as possible and as soon as possible.
Friends of the Eel River are cautiously optimistic about the promise the GRTA holds. We will continue to be your advocate in Sacramento to ensure that the legislature provides a clear mandate, adequate funding, and a mechanism for enforcing timely cleanup as a critical part of the legislation.