Letter to the Great Redwood Trail Board in Support of Indigenous Communities

March 26, 2024

Dear Chair Hart and Board Members,

Friends of the Eel River (FOER) and allied organizations support the Great Redwood Trail and have a deep and long- standing interest in remediating the environmental mayhem left by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.

As you may remember, federal regulators closed the rail line in 1998. FOER filed suit against the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) in 2011 for refusing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act in its attempts to repair and re-open the rail line. In 2017 the California Supreme Court unanimously held the NCRA subject to state environmental law. That victory led to the Legislature’s decision to railbank the NWP line to create the Great Redwood Trail and your agency.

We rehash this history first to emphasize that we see a central benefit of the Great Redwood Trail, and thus a key responsibility of the GRT Agency, in the effective remediation of the former NWP line and its associated environmental hazards and harms. To that end, I also wish to underscore how important it is to environmental interests that the Great Redwood Trail Agency continue to do better by California citizens than their predecessor organization. While the NCRA was never shy about promoting the vision they pursued, its staff and leadership turned a deaf ear to community concerns. To clean up their messes will require a coordinated, well-resourced effort that can only benefit from clear lines of communication between the GRTA and community organizations.

Another way in which the GRTA can do better than previous agencies tasked with managing the NWP right of way is to ensure proper consultation and inclusion of Indigenous people whose ancestral and current home lands are affected by this project. However, it is important to recognize that, especially in a region like the Eel River canyon where native inhabitants were subjected to particularly extreme acts of violence and genocide, Indigenous people are not always organized into Tribal governments. Thus, Indigenous voices in the Eel River include not only the state and federally recognized Tribes which the Agency is legally obligated to consult with, but also non “recognized” Indigenous people. Some of these people have formed a new coalition, consisting largely of Wailaki descendants, called Kinest’e.

The Kinest’e Coalition holds a great deal of cultural knowledge, history, and traditional ecological knowledge that can not only benefit this project, but is also necessary for the project to provide accurate education and interpretation for the public. Given the State of California’s recent executive orders establishing the Governor’s Office of the Tribal Advisor as well as the California Truth and Healing Council, and of course the California Coastal Commission’s robust approach to Tribal Consultation, we have faith that the value of this Indigenous knowledge is not lost on state entities.

To their credit, GRTA staff have been regularly meeting and listening to this coalition since the fall of 2023. We encourage your board to learn more about the process of understanding and relationship-building underway in these meetings.

We respectfully request that the GRTA board and staff support inclusion of a Native American representative on the GRTA board. This kind of decision-making role would go a long way toward furthering effective communication with Indigenous communities and sharing power and authority to make decisions about elements of the trail that matter to those communities.

Finally, many of us eagerly await the release of the draft master plan next month. We are looking forward to reviewing and commenting on the document, and hope that the comment process is more transparent than the “technical advisory group” that may have helped inform the draft plan. Many community members are thrilled about this project, but transparency with all stakeholders is key to broadening that embrace with the rest of the community.


Alicia Hamann
Executive Director
Friends of the Eel River

Josefina Frank
Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria

Catherine Buchanan
Environmental & Natural Resources Director
Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria

Melodie Meyer
Conservation Attorney
Environmental Protection Information Center

Colin Fiske
Executive Director
Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities

Caroline Griffith
Executive Director
Northcoast Environmental Center