Another small step in Bodega Bay trail

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BODEGA BAY - Work is underway on a small section of a long-awaited bike and pedestrian trail designed to extend along 3½ miles of Bodega Bay coastline, part of it built on an elevated boardwalk at the harbor’s edge.

A crew began last week to clear brush and mark the route of the new half-mile segment toward the northern end of this seaside village, running roughly parallel to Highway 1 between the Bodega Bay Community Center and the entrance road to the state-run Bodega Dunes Campground.

But while a step in the right direction, the estimated $533,000 trail to be laid this fall is just that: a single step in what could still be a prolonged campaign to turn the complete multiuse trail plan into reality, thanks to cost, necessary engineering and environmental hurdles.

Of particular complexity is the milelong boardwalk section designed to skirt the commercial center of town along the harbor tidelands, an environmentally sensitive, seismically demanding stretch of land that also raises residential privacy and commercial right-of-way concerns, Sonoma County Regional Parks personnel said.

That phase, estimated to cost about $2.4 million for construction alone, “is at least 10 years out, because there’s no funding right now,” senior park planner Mark Cleveland said.

But county parks Director Caryl Hart said she feels confident her staff will eventually bring the full project to fruition, connecting a community that’s strung out along the narrow coast highway and making it safer and easier for residents and visitors alike to enjoy it.

“Not only is it possible, I feel like it has to happen,” Hart said of the Bodega Bay community trail. “People can’t get from one end of the town to the other. You can’t walk or ride your bike without taking your life in your hands.”

The trail system will also be part of the 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail intended to run the entire length of the state, putting it in good stead for grant applications, Hart said.

Even the segment to be completed over the next several weeks, though still kind of “a trail from nowhere to nowhere,” has stirred eager excitement in the community, said Michael Bundy, a resident of the Salmon Creek community who oversees the community center with his wife, Diana.

The new trail, though truncated, will enhance the experience of those who gather for the Bodega Bay Community Center’s growing farmers market, as well as the surprising number who stop by daily to visit the Children’s Bell Tower memorial just behind it, Michael Bundy said.

“I think it’s going to be wonderful,” he said. “It’s been so long coming.”

Cleveland and other supporters encouraged a long-term view of the project, with each piece expanding opportunities for movement around the community, linking up trails and bike paths to Bodega Head, for instance, eventually taking visitors along the wharfs and fishing docks that define the town and, finally, connecting pieces of the California Coastal Trail, now said to be more than 60 percent done.

“You have to look long-term at the California Coastal Trail and connections to Bodega Bay to make it really make sense,” Cleveland said.

But it’s been a long haul for those who remember back to 2000, when local residents first began pursuing some kind of local pathway that would enable pedestrian and bicycle travel more safely and efficiently around Bodega Bay. A plan developed in 2005 by a citizen panel appeared to provide direction for its creation, but environmental review and permitting, funding issues and other concerns slowed progress.

The southernmost portion of the community trail is already finished, however, opened in 2008 between Doran Beach Regional Park and the Bird Walk Coastal Access trail that loops through salt water marshland. The connector trail runs four-tenths of a mile through Cheney Gulch, with a 110-foot concrete footbridge across Cheney Creek, effectively linking up Doran Beach and the Bodega Harbor subdivision through a system of paths and walkable roads.

What’s called the Coastal Prairie Trail at the northernmost end of town comes next, accomplished in two phases; one this fall and the second, next year, for a combined 1.1-mile trail.

Routed through a grassy area of coyote brush, eucalyptus trees and wetland areas, the first phase runs slightly under a half-mile to the Dunes campground entrance, beginning behind the community center and community garden, where the Children’s Bell Tower commemorates the 1994 death of 7-year-old Nicholas Green, who was shot and killed by street bandits while on vacation with his family in Italy. The Bodega Bay boy’s donated organs saved the lives of five people — a wide-reaching gift credited with increasing organ donations in Italy.

The current trail project, to be completed in late October, includes an 8-foot-wide path of earth-colored aggregate with a 3-foot compacted shale shoulder for equestrian use and a foot-wide shoulder on the opposite side, so the whole system accommodates pedestrians, joggers, horses, bicyclists and those using other forms of human-powered, wheeled transportation, Cleveland said. Two long sections of boardwalk will be built to bridge areas of wetland.

The work this fall, funded largely by federal and local transportation grants, as well as county park mitigation fees, also will include modest parking improvements off Keefe Avenue at the southern edge of the Salmon Creek neighborhood to prepare for next year’s trail development between the Bodega Dunes Campground and Salmon Creek, Cleveland said. Plans call for five gravel parking spaces and a van parking stall with a loading area for the disabled.

Keefe Avenue will be the end point of the trail system and Phase 2 of the Coastal Prairie Trail, expected to run about six tenths of a mile and be completed next year at an estimated cost of $665,000, along with some wetland mitigation and enhancement designed to improve habitat for the endangered red-legged frog.

Brian Freiermuth, an environmental monitor at the work site under contract with Sonoma County, said even the brush clearing brought interested residents out to see what was going on.

“Everybody seems kind of excited that it’s actually happening,” Freiermuth said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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