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Longtime friends Monica Genetti and Emily Harrington sat on the sun deck of Gourmet Au Bay wine bar Wednesday afternoon, sipping white wine and catching up on old times while the occasional fishing boat lazily cut through the waters of Bodega harbor.

Just below where the two Sebastopol-bred friends were chatting is a shoreline that is expected to become the route of a 1,500-foot-long boardwalk, the centerpiece of an ambitious 3.4 mile trail from Salmon Creek to Doran Beach.

The $6.2 million project would make tiny Bodega Bay a safer place to walk and potentially be a boon to tourists and merchants.

"Right now, there's no way you can walk around Bodega Bay," said Genetti, 33, noting that people must drive to each location in town and most visitors usually settle on just one.

The trail, some of which has been completed, would provide a safer north-south alternative for pedestrians and cyclists who otherwise must use a dangerous section of Highway 1.

But the most noticeable part of the long-planned trail project would be the boardwalk along the waterfront, a passage that will provide access to retail shops, restaurants and scenic overlooks.

"It would showcase Bodega Bay as one of the gems of Sonoma County," said Harrington, 33, who was engaged and married in Bodega Bay. "And it would probably generate more business."

Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo and county regional parks officials are holding a public meeting this evening to provide an update on the trail system, and specifically on the northern section, which is to be built this summer.

The meeting is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Bodega Bay Fire Department. When completed, the Bodega Bay Trail will be a link in the California Coastal Trail.

The northern section is a 1.1-mile paved path west of Highway 1 from Salmon Creek to the Bodega Bay Community Center. It will include at least one boardwalk section and two parking lots, one a trailhead lot for seven cars along the shoulder of Keefe Avenue near Salmon Creek and another for 20 vehicles along Highway 1.

Construction was originally set for 2010 but delayed because of environmental studies, some aimed at protecting the endangered California red legged frog.

Gathering input from locals

Carrillo said Wednesday the goal of today's meeting is to "touch base again with the coastal community" and to get input from local residents.

"The project is an opportunity to enhance and really provide access to our natural resources out there," said Carrillo. But the primary purpose, he said, is "to provide a safe route" for people who live in Bodega Bay and those who visit.

In addition to the 3.4-mile, $6.2 million county trail, the project includes 4 miles of bike lanes along Highway 1 to be constructed by Caltrans.

Currently, pedestrian access through Bodega Bay is difficult, and in some cases extremely dangerous. There are crosswalks that traverse the highway, such as the one in front of the Tides restaurant. But along Highway 1, the shoulder often narrows to 1 or 2 feet, and in some cases vegetation grows to the road's fog line.

"The only sidewalks are these random sidewalks to nowhere that dump people into unsafe areas," said Sissy Blanchard, owner of Gourmet Au Bay and the president of the Bodega Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

Some privacy concerns

Blanchard said she has heard some opposition from local residents worried that their quality of life might be disrupted by the boardwalk. Blanchard, who purchased the wine bar in 2008, lives below her shop and the boardwalk would run right past her back porch.

"There's a lot of resistance to change from people that have lived here for a long time, and I understand that," she said. "As a resident and business owner, I'm going to have to give up some of my privacy if the boardwalk comes by my backdoor."

But she said the benefits "of having a safe walkway with access to the water outweigh the downsides."

Ken Tam, a park planner for the county regional parks department, stressed that construction of the boardwalk segment is not imminent. It is not fully funded and is still in the conceptual phase.

In contrast, environmental review of the northern section of the Bodega Bay trail -- from Salmon Creek to the community center -- is nearly complete. The southern section, which includes a 110-foot pedestrian and bike bridge over Cheney Creek near Doran Beach, was finished in 2010.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.