On August 30, the California State Assembly approved the creation of a new, potentially spectacular hiking trail stretching from San Francisco Bay some 300 miles north to Humboldt Bay, not far from the Oregon border. This vote followed the state Senate’s approval earlier in the year so now only the governor’s signature is needed before the first shovelfuls of dirt start flying.
The trail, still only a hopeful idea at this point, is called the Great Redwood Trail. It would follow the nearly defunct Redwood Empire Route, a rail line owned by a publicly owned agency called the North Coast Railroad Authority, a major money-loser for the state, which is massively in debt. The bill that’s passed the California state legislature, sponsored by state Sen. Mike McGuire, would get rid of the railroad company and replace it with a new organization called the Great Redwood Trail Agency.
Oh, but there are stumbling blocks.
Primarily, the cost.
It’s estimated that the price could soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Repairs would need to be made where the trail crosses railroad lines and organizers would have to conduct studies about congestion and a general plan for the trail. All of that before any actual construction takes place.
The cost seems shockingly high for a trail but it has plenty of backers.
The League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the California Transportation Commission, and Trout Unlimited, among other organizations, all support the Great Redwood Trail.
The route would pass through a tremendous variety of landscapes and topography, from the golden, rolling hills of wine country though the Eel River watershed (once, and possibly again, one of the most productive salmon fisheries on the West Coast), before winding through towering redwood forests and arriving at the stunning Humboldt Bay, home to countless seabirds and herds of bugling elk.
“This is truly an incredible piece of earth,” said McGuire in a statement. “From the San Francisco Bay, through the incredible beauty of wine country, alongside the glistening banks of the Russian and Eel rivers, into the stunning old growth redwood forests, and up to and around panoramic Humboldt Bay.”
It’s also one a piece of earth that could really use more good backcountry camping options. Being so close to the bustling Bay Area, the northern part of California west of the Sierra is surprisingly short of accessible, quality campsites that don’t require planning ahead months in advance to secure. If the California State Parks can swing it financially, establishing backcountry campsites or at the very least allowing primitive dispersed camping along the new trail would do wonders to relieve the pressure of finding a place to sleep outside within a couple hours drive of northern California’s population centers.
Rewilding the Eel River watershed might also help to bring the salmon population back to levels that at least somewhat approach what they were historically. Salmon runs today in the area are down to between 10,000 and 15,000 fish per year, where they once spawned in the hundreds of thousands.
A voyage on foot through some of the country’s finest scenery, re-establishing native fish populations, and helping to possibly revitalize rural northern California communities, the Great Redwood Trail would be a alluring addition to the adventuring and camping options in the state. One that would take its place among other legendary thru-hikes in the state like the High Sierra, John Muir, and Pacific Crest trails. There’s always room for more trails.
Photo top: Scrubhiker; middle: Jan Hazevoet