Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – There are only two problems with the celebrated “gap” that this weekend’s Cirque Disco-leil event is intended to bridge.
First, it’s kind of a dark pit in the shadows of dense foliage – but one which needs some costly attention. Second, the bridge is already paid for, thanks to a $10,000 donation from downtown realtor Matt Babich, which the City Council will likely accept tonight. The bridge will be named after his son, Elijah Babich. Another $1,000 in the Forest Fund seals the deal.
While that solves the gap problem, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t disco it up this weekend, because the Arcata Ridge Trail still needs a host of improvements.
The gap is a deep gash in an unnamed tributary of South Janes Creek, about 400 feet in from the as-yet undeveloped West End Road trailhead for the Arcata Ridge Trail. The young and able can leap across it, but other users may find it a hikestopping impediment.
A 20-foot long, $11,000 bridge, now under construction at Arcata’s C&K Johnson Industries, will make a non-strenuous passage across the gap.
Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said he hopes the bridge can be installed as early as December. That will enable the opening of a three-quarter mile segment of the northernmost Ridge Trail along the Samuels easement. “It basically will open up a nice connection to the Arcata Community Forest,” Andre said. “I want to hike it on New Year’s Day.
The bridge is all but done at the C&K Johnson factory next to the Arcata Marsh's South I Street entrance. Metal artisans there beamed with pride as they unveiled the custom-made crossing.
Made of weathering steel, the 20-foot, 2,935 pound bridge is chemically designed to oxidize in place along the moist, shady stretch of Janes Creek. The rust coating will then form a protective outer seal.
The walking surface is made of 3 x 12-inch planks, which are being sent out for pressure treatment on Monday. They'll be back and bolted in place in a few weeks, and the bridge will then be ready for installation.
Panels depicting a prancing salmon, based on a design by Dave Hockman and adapted to the bridge by Aaron Templelaere, adorns the steel railings. The salmon images alternate – tail up and tail down. The company used the same design for a 500-foot bridge along a bike path in Santa Cruz, creating what C&K Johnson owner Jesse Johnson calls "A big flip book."
Johnson said the bridge was designed on computer, with the salmon image programmed into a new robotic plasma cutter, which rendered the frolicking fish in steel. The illustrative panels can be easily removed and replaced whenever desired.
The locally made, gluten- and GMO-free bridge was fabricated entirely at the marshside Arcata factory by Jeff Brazil and Steve Boudreaux, and was much cheaper than a plain, generic version which would have been shipped in from a factory in another state.
"It's nice being able to work with the community and provide things locally," Johnson said.
That leaves several Ridge Trail improvements still to be made, including one other blocked passage.
The West End Road trailhead still needs an old fence removed, parking spaces for 10 or so vehicles created and an information kiosk and trail markers installed. Much of the trail’s northern stretch still needs to be rocked and made ready for traipsing.
The biggest challenge facing the Ridge Trail remains the crossing at Fickle Hill Road between the Arcata Community Forest and the Sunny Brae Tract.
That will require creation of a safe crossing for trail users, trailhead features, traffic calming and warnings for the drivers who habitually travel at high speeds down Fickle Hill, plus a series of “sweeping switchbacks” on the Sunny Brae side to reconcile the elevation change between the road and points south.
Andre said permits will be required for the crossing, which is located outside Arcata city limits. He is meeting with county staff this week.
Regardless, the Sunny Brae section of the Ridge Trail will open before the Fickle Hill crossing issues are sorted out and implemented.