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PD Editorial: Setting free the skunk

  • Robert Pinoli, who owns the Skunk Train Railroad, standing in front of a section of tunnel that collapsed outside Fort Bragg. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

Supporters of Mendocino County's beloved Skunk Train have dug themselves out of difficulties before. But never have they faced an obstacle quite like this one, which is some 40 feet deep.

The train, Mendocino County's top tourist attraction outside of the region's parks, has been severely limited in its operations since April 11 when a tunnel cave-in blocked access to 37 miles of the train's 40 miles of track between Fort Bragg and Willits. Trains are still running on the first three miles of track, but no service is available to and from Willits.

Operators of the train estimate that the cost of clearing the tunnel and getting the train up and running is around $300,000. And at the moment, they're about $280,000 short on having the money they need.

This is not the first time the train has suffered such a major setback. Service on the Skunk was curtailed in a similar way in 2006 due to a mudslide.

The rail line again overcame difficulties when a massive manhunt for armed fugitive Aaron Bassler in 2011 shut down the system for 37 days. Mendocino Railway, operators of the train, say the search for Bassler alone cost the train $200,000 in revenue and exhausted what remained of the system's reserves.

Mendocino Railway has launched a publicity campaign seeking public donations and selling long-term passes. In recognition of the importance of this tourist attraction to the entire region hotels, inns and other businesses have been pitching in as well.

So far, the campaign has taken in nearly $21,000. It's a good start, but it's a long way from ensuring the system reaches its goal.

Given the significance of this North Coast asset, we encourage state legislators also to lend a hand and work with locals to possibly access emergency state or federal funds, grants or other financial assistance to help get the Skunk back on track.

For information about the fund-raising, go to www.gofundme.com/SaveOurSkunk.

Before the critical summer season passes, help save a Skunk. We've done it before.

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