A historic rail line that once took produce to market and linked Sebastopol and Petaluma is being proposed for a hiking, biking and equestrian trail.

The Sonoma County parks department is applying for a $190,000 grant to study building a trail from Sebastopol to Petaluma that would use much of the former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Electric Railroad line.

It would be similar to the popular Joe Rodota Trail between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, and the West County Trail that extends to Forestville, which together draw 542,000 users a year and were also once part of the historic electric railroad.

"I wish it was already built," said Sebastopol City Councilman Patrick Slayter. "I wish we didn't have to go through all the studies. The Joe Rodota Trail through town is very, very heavily used and I have no reason to believe this proposed trial wouldn't be, as well."

County parks planner Steve Ehret said much of the old rail line is now private property and partially developed, so the challenge is finding public roads or other ways to build around the parts that are not available.

"There are many creative ways of dealing with it," Ehret said.

The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition has raised $12,000 and is trying to raise another $7,000 as a local match to the Caltrans grant. The application deadline is April 2.

The city of Sebastopol has contributed $1,600 towards the study, which would include a mile-long stretch within the city limits from Bloomfield Road to the Joe Rodota Trail along the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

The former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Electric line was established in 1904 and ran from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol and from Sebastopol to Petaluma, with spurs to Forestville and to Two Rock.

When the Sebastopol-Petaluma segment was abandoned in 1978, the ownership of the majority of the line reverted to adjacent property owners, while small portions are owned by Sonoma County and by Union Pacific Railroad.

The segment from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol, which is now the Joe Rodota Trail, last had trains on it in 1984.

"The Joe Rodota Trail took 10 years to complete; 40 funding agencies were involved. It had all the same challenges," said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. "Chunks had reverted to property owners, some pieces were owned by the county, there were environmental issues. But the Joe Rodota Trail got built."

The 11-mile stretch from Sebastopol to Petaluma is now nothing more than a berm where there were ties and track as it winds through western Sonoma County, past ranchettes and pastures.

The Sebastopol end is at Bloomfield Road and the Petaluma end at the KOA Campground at Stony Point Road.

The estimated cost of the trail is $4.4 million.