Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – It is one. The Arcata Ridge Trail, that is. Or will be, once its two segments are at last connected across Fickle Hill Road.
The City Council last week unanimously approved the long-awaited linkage between the two lobes of the Arcata Community Forest – the “old” forest north of Fickle Hill Road and the Sunny Brae Tract.
In the works for decades, four-mile the Ridge Trail will offer a route from Sunny Brae’s Margaret Lane all the way to West End Road in north Arcata. Missing has been a legal way to get from one of the two major trail segments to the other.
By approving the Negative Declaration of Environmental Impact, the council approved a new, 1,600-foot trail which includes the road crossing. It does not include a trailhead, or any provisions for parking at the site to use it as a starting point.
The trail will formalize and improve existing skid trails via accepted standards to complete the link.
Of several possible routes, the one approved was recommended by an independent Initial Study commissioned by the city as best satisfying requirements for safety at the road crossing, zero impact on area water systems and lowest cost of construction.
The independent study was commissioned after a lawsuit was filed by area residents over potential impacts to their water supply.
The route – also approved by the Planning Commission last month – wasn’t the original one. It was adopted following meetings with area residents, who expressed concerns about water supply impacts, safety, privacy and unauthorized entry.
Since the crossing lies outside city limits, the city will obtain an Encroachment Permit from the county for the project.
The Fickle Hill Road crossing itself will cost an estimated $55,000, though further expenses for trail improvement will increase that total. It isn’t estimated to exceed $100,000. The project had been included in the city’s 2020/2021 budget, but was cut as part of COVID-related reductions. Staff intends to bring a new financing package back to the council for approval. It is expected to include monies from the Forest Fund, grants and donations.
Community Development Director David Loya acknowledged that cars drive “way too fast” coming down Fickle Hill Road, but said that during site visits with area residents, motorists slowed on sighting people on the roadside. He said that with the addition of planned signage, flashing beacons and other measures, “I think the majority of people are going to respect that.”
Though not considered environmental impacts, additional neighborhood impact mitigation measures may include enclosure fencing for domestic water inlets, more signage pointing to approved trails and discouraging use as a trailhead, privacy screening for area residents composed of additional foliage, and wildlife-friendly fencing along the trail’s western boundary.
Public comment at the council meeting was, like that offered during the approval process, mostly positive. “The city has done such an amazing job of reaching out to neighbors,” said Fickle Hill resident Melissa Hardy. She said the crossing will vastly improve safety for hikers along the road. “Please do not delay in approving this project, which has been years in the making,” Hardy said.
Steven Pearl of the Redwood Coast Mountain Bike Association said the crossing is a “best-case scenario” and that due diligence has been paid. “This community is ready for the Ridge Trail,” he said.
Litigant Uri Driscoll said the matter has yet to be resolved in court, and urged adoption of a different route.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said the project will be independently reviewed by county staff, thanked the city and neighbors for a project that “connects communities together.”