A short but important new bicycle and pedestrian path opened last week in eastern Santa Rosa, promising to make it easier for people to travel east-west without using Highway 12.

The new 1,000-foot trail connects two existing path fragments to create a continuous route along Santa Rosa Creek from Mission Boulevard to the Streamside neighborhood.

"It's a nice path and a key link," said Colleen Ferguson, deputy director of public works.

Two existing trails were installed years ago as part of private developments, but the area between them had remained an overgrown tangle of blackberry bushes, garbage and homeless encampments.

"It's like the wild, wild West back there," said 31-year-old Mike Fisher, whose home in the Streamside neighborhood is close to the start of the new path.

The project has cleared out much of the brush and installed a smooth, curving 12-foot-wide asphalt path along the creek.

The project was originally planned for construction in the summer of 2008, but was shelved as the economy tanked.

The total project cost about $775,000, with the actual path construction costing $161,000. The bulk of the money was spent performing environmental work and obtaining right-of-way from various property owners, Ferguson said.

"It was a lot of work getting to the point where we could spend a little money," she said.

The path opened Dec. 23.

Councilman Gary Wysocky, an avid cyclist, said he's already ridden the new stretch. It provides an important connection between the nearby Brush Creek Trail and points east, including local parks and links to the Sonoma Valley, he said.

"It puts you right on the doorstep to Howarth Park," Wysocky said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)