Open-space purchases allow for scenic network of hiking paths New coastal trails, with a view

Within five years, Sonoma County hikers may be able to walk within sight or scent of the ocean from Sea Ranch to Bodega Bay, along some 40 miles of the gradually emerging California Coastal Trail.

It may also be possible to walk along 20 miles of inland meadow and forest trails from the coast to Occidental before 2010.

It's happening now because of a recent spate of land acquisitions by the county Open Space District and pledges of funding to supplement local budgets from the state Coastal Conservancy.

The trails, designed primarily for hikers, will offer breathtaking views that can't be seen from the road, said Craig Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, a nonprofit that works with agencies and land owners on trail issues.

"There are views of Bodega Bay and Point Reyes and Tomales that only cows have seen for the last 100 years," Anderson said. "Soon you will be able to look out on the Pacific Ocean from the top of a windswept ridge, over a timeless Sonoma County landscape."

The idea of a continuous, 1,200-mile-long trail along the California coast was included in the state's 1972 Coastal Conservation Act, which sets a priority on public access to the coast.

But it wasn't until 2001 that the Legislature charged the state Coastal Conservancy with implementing a walking route from the Oregon state line to the Mexican border.

The coast trail serves several purposes: It prevents private beachfront owners from locking out the public; provides enjoyable exercise - one out of every three people nationwide hikes or walks; and allows people a taste of the diversity and grandeur of the California coastline.

"It is just a great, wonderful thing to do," said Richard Nichols, who has lobbied vigorously for a coastal trail as the head of Sebastopol-based CoastWalk, a nonprofit organization.

The cost of a trail stretching along Sonoma County's 62 miles of coastline has been estimated at $11 million. But much of the work has already been done, and Sonoma County is way ahead of the rest of the coastal counties, said Richard Retecki, project manager for the Coastal Conservancy.

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