An update on Arcata forest issues

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Hardly anyone from the public attends the monthly meetings of the Forest Management Committee (FMC) – including its citizen members. Even with an update of the Forest Management Plan underway, the Arcata Ridge Trail steadily growing and a timber harvest in the works, the FMC hasn’t had a quorum since May.

Fortunately, public participation in the field is inversely proportional to the apathy at indoor public fora, and behind the scenes, city staff soldiers tirelessly on with a range of forest projects. Volunteer workdays, conducted in cooperation with a range of other groups and individual volunteers, are extremely well attended. The near-weekly work sessions often attract several dozen people, and their energy has been channeled into creation of lots of new trails in the Arcata Community Forest.

Arcata Ridge Trail

 The Arcata Ridge Trail has been a major beneficiary of all the public love, blood, sweat and tears. The 4.5 mile trail connects Sunny Brae with West End Road – or will, once key segments are complete. Unfinished are the middle and end bits.

Arcata Ridge Trail logo, designed by Dave Held.

Arcata Ridge Trail logo, designed by Dave Held.

With a new, Arcata-manufactured bridge freshly installed at the West End Road entrance, all that remains is construction of a fence several hundred feet long to isolate the trail from the Mad River Lumber log deck. The new fence will likely be a hog wire affair, supported by wooden posts. Mark Andre, director of Environmental Services, said it would be allowed to “berry up” with blackberry vines for a green screen.

“We’re poised to open the northern trailhead,” said Andre. Focusing energies there will open up the three-quarter mile Samuels Loop and points south as soon as this summer.

A trail in progress in Sunny Brae. KLH |Union

A trail in progress in Sunny Brae. KLH |Union

The Ridge Trail’s southern end is a beehive of projects. In the Sunny Brae Tract, three new single track segments of the Arcata Ridge Trail offer meandering strolls away from the main road. The newest, connecting the Ridge Trail to Panorama Drive, is least finished, with lots of grading and rocking still to do.

A much larger Sunny Brae trail project is the three mile-long Beith Creek Loop, where a former logging road was decommissioned, but a washed-out creek crossing is complicating completion. Andre said a new trail will have to route around the problem area to offer connectivity for hikers, bikers and equestrians.

Schrödinger’s tracts

A sign at the Margaret Lane entrance to the Sunny Brae Tract reflects the dual state of the area's existence. It informs users that the trails are closed, and to be careful on them. KLH | Union

A sign at the Margaret Lane entrance to the Sunny Brae Tract reflects the dual state of the area's existence. It informs users that the trails are closed, and to be careful on them. KLH | Union

While the Ridge Trail’s northern and southern areas are technically closed, with warnings posted to ward off users, they are both in daily use by forest fans. Like the dead-and-alive Schrödinger’s Cat of quantum physics fame, they exist in a dual superstate of being closed, and yet open. So which is it, and why does the city maintain a technical state of closure for these heavily used recreational resources?

“They’re under construction,” Andre said. “Signage is not up, and people could lose their way and end up on a dead end.”

Another concern for the Sunny Brae Tract is that it’s outside city limits, where city laws don’t apply and Arcata Police won’t respond. It should join Arcata soon, Andre said, as the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) is considering annexation of the 171 acres into the city limits.

The Sunny Brae Tract. City of Arcata graphic

The Sunny Brae Tract and its many trails. City of Arcata graphic

“We’re hoping annexation will be completed soon so that the rules and regulations of the Arcata Municipal Code will apply,” he said. “It’s possible that it will open prior to expectations.”

Those expectations have been raised and let down before, so Andre is reticent to project firm opening dates for the closed areas or the overall Ridge Trail. “Every time I predict too optimistically, my trail crews get worried,” he said.

Stuck in the middle

The final and most vexing obstacle to opening of the Arcata Ridge Trail is its crossing over Fickle Hill Road. To the perpetual consternation of that road’s residents, drivers tend to speed down and around blind corners, so signage and other markings will have to be installed to warn motorists of possible trail users in the roadway. That will have to be worked out in cooperation with county officials.

More difficult from a technical and cost standpoint will be resolving the extremely steep southern approach to the crossing.

“It’s going to be a huge engineering challenge to set a retaining wall and build switchbacks,” Andre said. He ballparked the cost at perhaps $80,000, which he hopes can be funded by grants. Meanwhile, to discourage hikers from using the unfinished and presently unsafe crossing, the Ridge Trail south of it is being left unfinished for now.

Lima, Jacoby Creek additions

Away from the Ridge Trail, improvements to the Arcata Community Forest continue. The most recent expansion is the Lima Acquisition, a 20-acre tract immediately east of Humboldt State through which Jolly Giant Creek passes. Heavily used by students, it could have wound up gated if acquired by a private buyer. A $500,000 state Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) grant was just approved for the purchase.

City of Arcata graphic

City of Arcata graphic

Also available to the city is the 58-acre Forsyth Property next door to the Lima parcel. Andre said that tract is also under discussion.

Still another, much larger acquisition is 967 acres adjacent to the city-owned, 1,151.7-acre  Jacoby Creek Forest. Presently owned by Sierra Pacific Industries (which used to own the Sunny Brae Tract), this 10-parcel tract would be jointly managed by the city and Humboldt State’s Forestry Department. Another GGRF grant, this one totaling $800,000, has been approved for this purchase.

Now being appraised, the property will cost “more than $3 million,” Andre said. The city has put together $2.8 million so far toward purchase.

Areas to be harvested this year. City of Arcata graphic

Areas to be harvested this year. City of Arcata graphic

Timber Harvest

Maintaining, improving and expanding Arcata’s forests, with their 17 miles of trails, isn’t easy or cheap. To offset costs and demonstrate sustainable management practices, the city harvests the equivalent of about one-tenth of the forest’s annual new growth each year. This requires hiring a logger and selling the logs.

On July 1, the City Council awarded a bid to Arcata Forest Products for purchase of 250,000 to 300,000 board feet of redwood and Douglas fir. The Aldergrove-area company came in lowest at $700 to $860 per thousand board feet for redwood, depending on tree diameter, and $420 per thousand board feet for Doug fir.

A bid opening last Friday for the logging involved submittals from two bidders, with Diamond R Ranch coming in lowest bid at just over $100,000.

Forest Management Plan

Least sexy of all the ongoing forest projects is the continuing update to the Forest Management Plan (FMP). Last revised in 1995, the document is being revised by FMC subcommittees. The new version will have to factor in the many new properties the city has acquired, their flora and fauna, updated forest practices, rules and regs, circulation and access points, timber harvest amendments, a vision statement and more.

“It’s a big task, and we want to be slow and deliberate about it,” Andre said.

As for the FMC’s sparse attendance over the summer – the last two meetings found only a minority of members in attendance, and no quorum, with some of those straggling in as much as 45 minutes late – Andre said that because of personnel changes in his office, the members weren’t emailed their usual agenda packets as notice for the meetings.

“I’m confident that we’ll get it together,” he said.

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