The Trail Companion
Trail Blazing is Moving Full Steam Ahead
A funny thing happened to public lands en route to
the late 20th Century. Timber barons slurped up miles
of California redwoods through fraudulent use of the
federal Timber & Stone Act. Mining combines
scored rich claims for the minimal cost of filing
fees. Congress lavished vast tracts on railroad
companies to reward them for laying rail.
Now, a citizen's
group, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), is
building its own head of steam, as it rips up track
to return unused rail corridors to the public as
green and open space. Thanks to RTC efforts, 9,000
miles of former train rights-of-way in the United
States are now available as "linear parks" and as
community links to free use by cyclists, pedestrians
skaters and equestrians.
The Conservancy has
built 49 rail-trails spanning 223 miles in
California, and established a new office in San
Francisco, to encourage the conversion of a lot
"The idea of turning
unused lines into a vibrant resource unites many
people--hiking clubs, cyclists, wildlife advocates,
political types who are community oriented," says
David Burwell. He co-founded the RTC in 1985 and
remains its president. "But you get long, skinny
parks, cutting across several jurisdictions. Such
things fall through the cracks of conventional
government. Who has the current title? Who'll fund
the trail, who winds up managing it? That's where we
arrive, to provide expertise."
Burwell was an
attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, when
the fate of an 11-mile railway corridor from
Washington, D.C., to Bethesda, Md. Came up for grabs.
Burwell snatched the opportunity. Today that corridor
is a hiking, biking and skating trail that gets 1,500
users a day. The conservancy Burwell formed with
Peter Harnik to accomplish this end now has 70,000
members, who work for similar conversions throughout
the United States.
The group has racked
up a list of achievements in California, revealing
unexpected gains to local communities. The 7.75 mile
Lafayette/Moraga trail (a conversion of the old
Sacramento Northern line) was the focus of a study
showing area merchants gained $2 million dollars
annually in increased sales to trail users everything
from snacks and items of gear, to lodging and
"It's not just
recreation and social benefits we want to promote,"
says Kate Bickert, director of the RTC's new San
Francisco office, "but also the alternative forms of
commuting. We want to link communities, hook trails
to other hubs, like BART and bus stations." That's
why of the 69 new projects, totaling 1,037 miles,
that RTC would like to get going in California the
most pressing targets are segments closest to urban
"Rail corridors are
some of the last land near cities which can become
green space," Bickert says. "But ownership issues can
be contentious and complex. We have to act
However, the nation's
country-side presents a tremendous amount of
opportunity. The United States once boasted 270,000
miles of rail. Just 120,000 miles are active now.
Much of the unused portion can be turned to other
purposes. In addition, 2,000 to 3,000 miles continue
to be abandoned each year, thanks to deregulation of
railroads. This inspires fantasies of a national web
of trails, and many philanthropic organizations are
stoking this dream with fiscal fuel to help see it
achieved. "The RTC's new San Francisco office was
opened with grants from the Packard, Hewlett, San
Francisco and Compton foundations.)
Yet one pivotal source
of funds from the federal gas tax allocating 1.5
percent of gasoline tax moneys for transportation
enhancement (things like billboard removal, scenic
byways, and pedestrain and bicycle paths) comes up
for renewal next September. While this law has been
active in the past six years, a billion dollars has
been applied to trail conversions and bike
"That money is
crucial," says Burwell. "sometimes, we get corridors
released to public use for free, or it might cost us
$100,000 a mile to get it back. In any case, it cost
$10,000 a mile to prepare a trail for bicycle,
skating and pedestrian traffic.
"Renewing that law
will be a big fight. The highway lobby (trucking
groups, paving contractors and the American
Automobile Association) regard trails as 'frills.'
They want every dime to go back into highways. One
the other side are local governments, who have found
out how many benefits derive from having these trails
link up your neighborhoods."
The best way to
research these issues: take a bike ride or walk on
one of the Bay Area's growing number of Rail-to-Trail
conversions. Cruise like a pedal-powered choo choo
down a long, quiet lane that winds behind houses,
shops and schools, meeting no cross-traffic and scant
delay. See smiling fellow citizens holding hands,
walking dogs, performing long-distance skate
workouts, pushing babies in strollers. Then, pedal
back out onto noisy, crowded urban streets, and
Note: Membership in
the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy costs $18 per year.
For more information call, (415) 397-2220 or (202)
by Paul McHugh, Staff Writer
Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle
Outdoors, January 2, 1997
Major Bay Area Rail Trails
Trail descriptions derived from: "Rail-Trail
Guide to California" by Fred Wert, Infinity Press,
- Land's End Trail. Based on a former urban rail
line built by Adolph Sutro in 1884, the current
trail is 1.2 miles of dirt and sand. It starts from
the parking lot north of Cliff House, ends at El
Camino del Mar near 33rd Ave., and provides epic
views of the Golden Gate. It's suitable for hikers,
runners and mountain bikers, with some staircase
segments to get around erosion and land slides.
Manager: GGNRA, (415) 556-8642.
- Sir Frances Drake Bikeway. Once part of the
North Pacific Coast Railroad line from Larkspur to
Cazedero, this 5.3 mile route (3.4 miles paved, the
rest gravel) parallels Lagunitas Creek. It starts
near the junction of Platform Bridge Rd. and Sir
Francis Drake Blvd., and runs east past Sam Taylor
State Park to Shaffer Bridge. Suitable for hikers,
runners, bikers equestrians. A few short segments
are also open along Tomales Bay. There are dreams
of someday re-opening the route all the way to the
Russian River. Managers: Pt. Reyes National
Seashore, (415) 663-1092; Taylor State Park, (415)
- Old Railroad Grade. This steep route climbs
1,900 feet from Blithedale Park in Mill Valley
almost to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais in just 8
miles. Portions are paved, but most of it is the
original dirt/gravel ballast of what once was a
tourist jaunt billed as "The Crookedest Railroad in
the World." Suitable for hikers, mountain bikers.
Manager: Marin Municipal Water District, (415)
924-4600, ext. 294.
- Mill Valley-to-Sausalito Path. A paved, level
route that traverses a tidal marsh, this trail
offers special charms to skaters and bird watchers,
as well as being suitable for other users. It
travels 3.5 milels, from e. Blithedale Street in
Mill Valley to Dunphy Park in Sausalito. Manager:
Marin Co. Dept of Parks. (415) 499-6387.
- Tiburon Lineal Park. A cool companion to the
North Bay shoreline, this 2.3 mile, paved pathway
runs from the junction of Trestle Glen Road and
Tiburon Boulevard to Mar West St. at Belvedere.
Suitable for skaters, strollers, cyclists. The path
occupies an old rail spur of the Port of Tiburon.
Manager: City of Tiburon, (415) 435-7373.
- Joe Rodota Bike Trail. This is the rustic,
scenic route between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa,
near the intersection of highway 12 and Merced. In
its paved, 3-mile course, it crosses several creeks
and traverses Sonoma County farmland. The trail
will eventually be extended northward to
Forestville to provide a link to the Russian River
area. Suitable for skaters, walkers, cyclists.
Manager: Sonoma Co. Regional Parks, (707)
- Ohlone Greenway. Yes, the Atchiscon, Topeka
& Santa Fe railway of song and legend actually
did exist, and this is one legacy: a 3.75 mile-long
paved trail that runs under elevated BART tracks
from Conlon and Key Streets in El Cerrito to
Virginia and Acton in Berkeley. Strollers and
skaters will enjoy it the most. The Greenway is
managed by the communities of El Cerrito, Albany
and Berkeley, through which it passes.
- Lafayette/Moraga Trail. A paved link between
parks, towns, and open space, this 7.75 mile
meander along Las Trampas Creek is a poster child
for the whole Rails-to-Trails movement. It opened
twenty years ago, and now sees nearly
half-a-million users per year, primarily walkers
and cyclists. It starts at Olympic Blvd. And
Pleasant Hill Rd in Lafayette. An economic study
reveals the conversion of this old Sacramento
Northern rail line now generates $2.2 million
dollars into local business activity by trail
users. Manager: East Bay Regional Parks. (510)
635-0135, ext. 0138.
- San Ramon Valley Iron Horse Trail. Of all
current trail conversions in the Bay Area, this one
showcases the huge potential of rail corridors to
provide both recreation and alternative transport.
Now up to 16.5 miles of its planned 21-mile length,
this link between Concort and San Ramon may soon
pass through Dublin to Pleasanton in the south
where it can connect to a planned route to
Livermore. To the north, it can reach the
Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Meanwhile, its smooth,
shaded length provides a welcome respite to
walkers, cyclists, skaters and strollers. Manager:
East Bay Regional Parks. (510) 635-0135, ext.
A New Brochure in the Works!
We are putting
together a brochure describing the services we offer
in trail work (and possibly in mapping as well). The
brochure will be directed toward the agencies we work
with, rather than our membership and the public.
Although we currently have several trail projects
lined up, we recently experienced a very dry period;
we hope to raise our visibility with the new
brochure. We are looking for volunteers to help with
grant writing, layout and production for the
brochure. If this project interests you, please come
to our first planning meeting on Wed., Feb. 26 (place
and time TBA). Contact Geoffrey Skinner at 415
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We're Building a Bay-front Trail
in San Mateo
We break ground on a brand new project on
Saturday, March 1st and it will be poison oak free!.
The Trail Center's very first project was next to the
San Francisco Bay--in Ravenswood Open Space Preserve.
Now, thirteen years later, we return to the Bay, this
time in San Mateo. We'll be building a 2/3 mile-long
trail connecting Ryder and Harborview Parks. Our new
trail follows a tidal canal and parallels the Bay
Trail (the new trail may even be designated as a Bay
Trail alternate route).
Call the office to sign
up for the kick-off day in San Mateo. Meeting time is
at 8:30 am in Ryder Park (take 3rd Ave toward the Bay
and look for the signs) We will celebrate our new
project with a BBQ afterward.
We will alternate our
workdays in San Mateo with the on-going project in
Arguello Park in San Carlos. This year, both our
California Trail Days (Apr. 26) and National Trail
Days (June 7) events will take place on the
waterfront. See you there!
Days........................... Mark your
April 26 - 27, 1997
Join the Celebration of the 12th Anniversary of
California Trail Days!
||Saturday, April 26, 1997
|Walk 'Em and Ride 'Em
||Sunday, April 27, 1997
Your involvement on
April 26 and 27, 1997 will make you a part of an
exceptional and growing state hiking trails program
including California State Parks and hundreds of
other public agencies and trail organizations around
The Trail Center Map Committee has been hard at
work this summer and fall. We mapped the Phleger
Estate, Thornewood and Pulgas Ridge Preserves, Big
Canyon and Eaton Canyon Trails in San Carlos, the
Crystal Springs Trail along Canada Road, and portions
of Huddart and Edgewood Parks.
This winter we will
begin by mapping Arguello Park in San Carlos, then we
will work through summer mapping the preserves west
of Skyline Boulevard. We will enjoy grand ocean views
from the new Bald Knob Trail in Purisima Creek
Redwoods Preserve, map ancient sandstone outcrops and
miles of new trails in El Corte De Madera Preserve,
and later in the spring we will get permits to visit
seldom-seen La Honda Creek Preserve. See the
little technical knowledge, which we can teach as you
go. We spend a fair amount of time squinting at
compasses and shouting numbers back and forth, but we
also get to sniff the pine-scented air and study leaf
patterns we might not notice while speeding along the
trail. Best of all, unlike trail building, we don't
get into poison oak. We provide tools; you bring
lunch, water, and layered clothing. Join us!
information call the Trail Center office at (650)
Map Committee Calendar
Arguello Park, San Carlos
Follow the signs to the trail build from San Carlos
Sky Londa (NE Corner of Hwys 84
We will meet for 10-15 minutes in front of Kings
Mountain Trading Post for coffee; then drive to the
preserves from here.
* All dates are Saturdays. If you can only join us
for the morning, that's fine too.
|9:00 - 2:00*
9:00 - 2:00*
9:00 - 2:00*
9:00 - 2:00*
9:00 - 2:00*
9:00 - 2:00*
RAIN CANCELS. Call
Trail Center if there are questions. Or call Ben
Pease at (415) 221-0487 or Darwin Poulos at (415)
Nestled along the slopes of Mount Hamilton, Grant
Ranch County Park offers a variety of hiking terrain.
The trails are old ranch roads which makes for easy
footing and manageable slopes. Our 6-mile hike starts
near the park headquarters. Access the Dutch Flat
plateau by using the Dairy Trail, located off the
road near the corrals. You'll come to a fork where
you'll veer off the Dairy Trail (upper fork) and onto
the Dutch Flat Trail. The trail rises about 1000 feet
in vertical elevation At this point the hike offers a
panoramic view of the East San Jose area and the park
itself. By Mat Noall.
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