Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
SUNNY BRAE – Arcata’s sustainably managed rainforests are generally roiling with good energy these days – on the trail, in the corridors of power at City Hall and soon, on the dance floor.
Having been around since forever, Arcata’s forests are newly on the move – particularly in the Sunny Brae Tract of the Arcata Community Forest. Fresh trails are being born on an almost daily basis. Individuals, families, user groups, private landowners and big-time funders have all signed on, with support ranging from sweat to deals to dollars.
Last Saturday, Sept. 27, some 65 volunteers from the Volunteer Trail Stewards, HSU Natural Resources club and HSU Chi Phi Fraternity celebrated National Public Lands Day in the Sunny Brae tract of the Arcata Community Forest (ACF).
According to Natural Resources Crew Leader Dennis Houghton, the formidable force wheelbarrowed 15 cubic yards of crushed rock to surface armor 300 feet of newly constructed trail, rehabilitated a 350-foot section of old skid trail and brushed 800 feet of trail corridor for a new multi-use trail section.
Afterward, volunteers gathered at the Margaret Lane trailhead to feast on homemade burritos, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapes, cookies and chips provided by Maureen McGarry from RSVP with help from Mary Calderwood.
The next volunteer workday is Saturday, Oct. 11 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., focusing on non-native plant removal from Janes Creek between Hilfiker and Stromberg avenues. Meet at the Trinity Baptist Church parking lot on Alliance Road, across from the Westwood Murphy’s Market.
What's in a name?
The astute forest watcher may have noticed a recent change in terminology from City Hall regarding what has been referred to as the "Sunny Brae Forest" since it was first conceived as a possible public holding back in the early 2000s. Nowadays, the city calls it "the Sunny Brae Tract of the Arcata Community Forest."
"People get confused sometimes," said Environmental Services Director Mark Andre. "It is managed as one."
While managed under standards described in ACF’s guiding document, the Forest Management Plan, the Sunny Brae Tract is technically not yet under that plan's auspices. The 1994-vintage plan needs a host of updates to reflect changes in forest management practices as well as the many land acquisitions which have so dramatically increased the size of Arcata's forests over recent years. The Forest Management Committee is in the process of updating the plan.
Further, the Sunny Brae Tract lies on county land outside Arcata city limits. Thus, the Arcata Municipal Code is not enforceable there. But, Andre said, the City Council is set to consider annexing the tract as early as this month.
Bike trail protested
Saturday’s work took place in the vicinity of a newly refurbished bicycle trail. Part of a loop of what is now the Arcata Ridge Trail’s Sunny Brae segment, the trail has been a favorite for bicyclists for years for its steep grade, jumps and sharp turns. Like most of the unmaintained former logging roads and social trails in the tract, previously owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, the bike trail suffered from erosion.
When local mountain biking enthusiasts presented the city with a 120-signature petition asking for more challenging trails, the crude bike path was added to the list of areas for improvement as part of the restoration of the Sunny Brae Tract. It’s since been graded, some troubled spots bypassed and generally made into a sustainable route for the more ambitious bicyclists to whiz down.
The unfinished trail even earned premature coverage in a recent article in Freehub magazine, which caters to mountain bikers.
However, an influential Ridge Trail supporter and member of the Open Space & Agriculture Committee, Uri Driscoll, objects to the creation of a trail oriented toward a single user group.
“There are only so many trails to go around, and we should be sharing them in the Community Forest,” Driscoll said.
An equestrian, Driscoll doesn’t like high-speed biking being sanctioned in the ACF, and considers it an incompatible use. “A high-speed bike is a threat to the rest of the community, and I don’t think it has a place in the forest,” he said.
Driscoll said the bike trail acts as a magnet for cyclists, further imperiling users throughout the ACF. “This encourages that activity,” he asserted. “It permeates the entire trail system.”
Driscoll’s views aren’t shared by some members of the Forest Management Committee (FMC) and city staff.
“That trail was used by mountain bikers for a long time,” said FMC Chair Mike Furniss. “What got put in place there is a solution to uncontrolled use. It was much less safe than it is now.”
He noted the popularity of mountain biking locally, with a recent evening FMC meeting flooded by 45 bike enthusiasts. “There are way more mountain bikers than equestrians,” he said. “Lots of students here love to do that.”
“We think it’s forward thinking,” said Sean Tetrault, boardmember with the Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association. “Trails like this will help direct and contain use and minimize conflict, and cut down on illegal trail-building activity.” He noted that there are horse-friendly trails off limits to bikers. “It’s all good if you can see the big picture,” Tetrault said.
Driscoll cites the Forest Management Plan, which states, “Bicycles are prohibited from attaining high speeds on downhill grades by which the safety of other recreational users or the cyclist[s] themselves are jeopardized.”
“That won’t change,” Andre said. He said the exclusive trail supports that standard, by separating conflicting uses.
The bike trail represents less than one percent of the ACF’s trails. Other loops, Andre noted, are off-limits to bikes.
Further, the city is expanding parking at some ACF trailheads to allow space for horse trailers. “We aren’t catering to any one group,” Andre said.
“It’s an engineering solution which is basically a separation,” said FMC member Dennis Halligan. “You separate conflict as much as you can.”
"As part of the process of road decommissioning and conversion to recreational trails and new trail construction, city staff has been removing and otherwise obliterating existing non-standard and non-sanctioned trails in the area," Andre summarized. "There were quite a few trespass trails constructed in the forest that preceded city ownership . Many of those trails included rickety and dangerous jumps and turns made from nailed together wood pallets etc and they often displayed gullies and other undesirable erosional features."
The FMC and Open Space committees recently walked the trail during public meetings. Open Space Committeemember Lisa Brown said her group is unlikely to take a position regarding the trail. Andre said the FMC will agendize the bike trail matter for further discussion.
Tom Phillips, A boardmember on the Humboldt Trails Council, said that Humboldt's mountain bikers and equestrians are generally cooperative and considerate – more so than in other areas. "I'm proud of our community," he said. "We really do get along with the horse people."
"I believe everyone belongs on these trails," Phillips concluded
A new forest etiquette brochure is available at City Hall and here.
Bridge ‘leap of faith’
With the Ridge Trail poised to open, a key fixture is still missing at the other end of the route – a $12,000, 20-foot-long bridge over Janes Creek near the West End Road entrance.
Just $4,500 in discretionary forest funds are available, but Andre took a “leap of faith” and ordered the bridge anyway. “It’s an important piece,” he said.
The funding shortfall may be erased when the power of cross-dressing is unleashed the evening of Saturday, Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Then, Ridge Trail fans age 21 and older gather at the Community Center for “Cirque Disco-leil.”
The event has a disco theme, and its focus is “bridging the gap” – that is, gaining funding for the bridge over Janes Creek.
The evening is being organized by community activist and Greenway Partners project manager Debi Farber Bush. She put together the successful “Bat ’N’ Rouge” drag comedy softball games at the Arcata Ball Park in 2010 and 2011 which raised thousands for the Ridge Trail.
Still being shaped up, Cirque Disco-leil will feature Caravan of Glam, a company of drag performers. Farber Bush is also in discussions with the Pom Pom Queens, Kinetic Queens, Va Va Voom Girls, Humboldt Roller Derby and their possible performers. SCRAP Humboldt will decorate the stage.
As with “Bat ’N’ Rouge, “politicals and notables” – local public officials and celebrities and will be summoned to appear and submit to Farber Bush’s mischievous aspirations. Prizes will be awarded for best disco-themed costumes.
Good Relations will hold a sexy fashion show; music will be provided by DJ Joey; Humboldt Hot Sauce and Humboldt Distillery will offer Bloody Marys; local beer and wine will be available. Food trucks are being invited to set up a food court outside the Community Center.
More details will be available at the Humboldt Trails Council website, and the Union site, madriverunion.com.
Interested sponsors and volunteers are invited to contact Farber Bush at (707) 845-3873.