Sonoma County to develop two new segments of California Coastal Trail

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Saturday’s meeting is from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Fort Ross School, 30600 Seaview Road, in Cazadero.

See Regional Parks’ website here for more information.

At the beginning of the campaign decades ago to build the 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail, it appeared the segment on land surrounding Stewarts Point Ranch would present some of the more significant challenges to public shoreline access, according to Coastwalk California Executive Director Cea Higgins.

Sonoma County is blessed with generous coastal access, but the area around Stewarts Point has long been off-limits, its acreage privately held for more than 135 years by the family of Herbert Archer Richardson, who is said to have arrived in the area with 40 cents in 1876.

He would eventually acquire 25,000 acres of prime timber and grazing land along an 8-mile stretch of coastline.

Through a $6 million conservation and trail easement purchased in 2016 and the creation a year earlier of the nearby 700-acre Kashia Coastal Reserve, some of those holdings will be traversed by public trails that could open in 2021, depending on the time needed for environmental and regulatory review, said Mark Cleveland, a senior planner with the county’s Regional Parks department.

A public meeting will be held Saturday morning at Fort Ross School to discuss the trail planning process.

The two segments, which total 2 miles, would form a small, scenic part of the trail envisioned to one day run the length of the coast from Oregon to Mexico.

And the views, Cleveland said, “are just tremendous.”

Separated by about 3 miles, the proposed trail alignments were both negotiated as part of conservation purchases put together by public and private agencies including the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the California Coastal Conservancy, which is tasked with developing the coastal trail, now approximately 60 percent complete.

The deals dictate the type of trails to be developed.

The 0.9-mile Stewarts Point Ranch trail is to be an earthen hiking trail, though there may be places where the path has to be rocked because of wetlands common to coastal terraces, Cleveland said.

The 1.1-mile Kashia trail is to be a multi-use trail, and the only one of the two allowing equestrians, he said. Small parking areas will be built with restrooms.

No beach access is planned because of sheep grazing and related fencing, as well as trail alignment that doesn’t allow for easy travel.

That may disappoint some and require enforcement, but Cleveland said he hoped visitors would be respectful of the landowners and the tribe who are welcoming people onto their property. He noted that other trails with beach access are within a few miles.

Each trail will require significant environmental study because of drainage and wetland issues, making habitat offsets likely.

The Stewarts Point Ranch easement deal included $160,000 each from the district and the conservancy toward planning, design, engineering and permitting for the trails, with commitments toward the estimated $1.4 million in construction meant to speed the bidding process, Cleveland said.

He hopes the trails can be under construction some time next year.

They would provide the only public access in a 6-mile stretch of coastline between Salt Point State Park and the Black Point Coastal Access Trail at the south end of The Sea Ranch.

Also, they would be among the most recent Sonoma County additions to the California Coastal Trail, which is strung together from different kinds of trails and pathways as close to the ocean as possible.

Other recent additions include the 1.1-mile Coastal Prairie Trail in Bodega Bay, finalized in 2016.

A portion of the trail will eventually lead over the 335-acre Carrington Ranch north of Bodega Bay. The property was purchased for State Parks, but its past budget problems delayed any action.

Now the land is slated to be included in the regional park system.

Higgins, who helms a group that promotes the Coastal Trail, said an early account of the coastline walk foresaw the obstacles at Stewarts Point.

“So many people think the California Coastal Trail is just a concept,” she said Tuesday. “But it takes time. And Richardsons’ (land) is just a perfect example of going over all these hurdles and it’s happening. You have access, and you have protection, happening simultaneously.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Kashia Reserve trail would allow equestrian use.

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

Saturday’s meeting is from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Fort Ross School, 30600 Seaview Road, in Cazadero.

See Regional Parks’ website here for more information.

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