Study of public trail along lower Russian River to kick off with Saturday meeting

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The vision of a 19-mile bike and pedestrian trail linking lower Russian River communities from Forestville to Jenner is still just that, but Sonoma County officials are taking the first steps toward what they hope might make for a concrete plan one day.

Armed with more than $750,000 in grant funding for the purpose, regional parks personnel are launching a feasibility study to figure out where they might try to route a multiuse trail that would provide a safer alternative than River Road or Highway 116 for cyclists and pedestrians, offering recreational opportunities to locals and visitors.

The high-speed, high-traffic route through west Sonoma County hosts an average of 11,000 daily vehicle trips, and has a history of bicycle and pedestrian crashes, officials said.

“We’re looking at providing a trail that is actually separate from the roadway, if we can provide a safe place for folks to walk and bike,” Sonoma County Regional Parks Planner Ken Tam said. “If we can keep them away from the shoulder it will actually provide safety for the vehicles, as well.”

But “it’s a pretty daunting task,” given the breadth of the study area, significant development up to the roadways in some areas and other obstacles — like bridges, steep embankments, private property rights and the like, Tam said.

A public meeting scheduled Saturday morning in Guerneville is part of the process. County consultants want to hear from the public about priority areas for safe passage and important linkages or destinations, like schools, beaches and service centers, Tam said.

The study area includes the communities of Mirabel, Forestville, Hacienda, Summer Home Park, Odd Fellows Park, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Guernewood Park, Vacation Beach, Northwood, Monte Rio, Villa Grande, Mesa Grande, Sheridan, Duncans Mills and Jenner.

If built, the trail would ultimately be part of a larger system of nonmotorized bike and walking trails, connecting to the extended West County Regional Trail in Forestville and to a proposed coast bikeway at Highways 1 and 116 in Jenner.

“These workshops are an important step toward creating a long-awaited trail along the river,” 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the west county, said in a written statement. “A continuous trail would connect communities, cut down on congestion and improve road safety. I encourage residents to attend to learn more and share their thoughts about possible trail routes, design and destinations.”

The feasibility study is similar to other inquiries undertaken in connection with proposed trails between Petaluma and Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and Sonoma, and in the north county Timber Cove area.

It involves identifying public rights-of-way, opportunities and challenges, potential solutions and cost estimates.

The project is funded largely by a competitive $620,000 grant from Caltrans, as well as $120,000 from the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District and smaller grants from the several local parks agencies, The Wildlands Conservancy, Korbel Winery and hotel bed taxes collected by the county.

Saturday’s meeting runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Guerneville Elementary School, 14630 Armstrong Woods Road.

Those who are interested can learn more online and participate in an interactive survey at LowerRussianRiverTrailStudy.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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