Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Saturday that calls for the creation of the Great Redwood Trail, an ambitious 300-mile path along active and abandoned railway running from San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay.

The new law, SB 1029, reimagines the rail corridor, including the crumbling line north of Willits, as a future world-class trail for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, the bill’s author.

In the North Bay, it would use pathways along the SMART tracks, only about 16 miles of which exist so far.

While the legislation offers no funding for trail design or construction, McGuire said the governor’s action launches a “massive planning process” that could take up to two years. It will examine trail alignment, construction, easements and all costs associated with the project.

“We’re going to start lining up funding to move this project forward,” McGuire said Saturday evening. “We’re going to do this right, not fast.”

SB 1029 sets in motion the abolishment of the debt-ridden North Coast Railroad Authority, a public agency, and puts Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit in charge of railroad freight service along the track it controls. The bill also provides $4 million to be used by SMART for acquisition of freight rights and equipment from the current freight operator, Northwestern Pacific Co., “to ensure efficient provision of goods movement requirements in the corridor in the context of growing passenger service,” according to the legislation.

SMART control of the rail line could generate revenue for the agency by expanding commercial freight operations and extending passenger rail service north from Sonoma County to Mendocino County, McGuire said.

Once completed, the trail could attract hundreds of thousands of visitors and become an important economic driver for rural Northern California, McGuire said.

“We know that the real work is about to be kicked off,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213.