Kevin L. Hoover
FICKLE HILL – When the public effort in support of the Arcata Ridge Trail was launched just two years ago, the City of Arcata owned just two of the seven puzzle pieces required for the four-mile trail linking Sunny Brae with West End Road.
Now it has an easement through, or outright ownership of, six of the seven parcels of land through which the trail passes.
Building on the core assets of the Arcata Community Forest and Sunny Brae Forest, the City has added Ridge Trail segments via the Morris Property, Schmidbauer Property, Samuels Conservation Easement and Green Diamond Acquisition.
The Schmidbauer Property acquisition was made possible by a $630,000 grant from the state Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved Friday, Feb. 23. Environmental Services Director Mark Andre and Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace attended the board hearing in Sacramento.
Acquiring the oddly-shaped, 22-acre Schmidbauer Property not only adds a Ridge Trail link, but protects the City-owned forestlands from problematic upslope development of the residentially-zoned parcel.
During heavy rains on New Year’s Eve 1995/1996, a massive slip-out or landslide on the heavily logged Schmidbauer Property, located outside city limits, sent tons of soggy soil down into the north fork of Grotzman Creek, plugging a culvert and resulting in a $300,000-plus replacement of Beverly Drive’s storm drain.
“It’s really a strange, U-shaped thing we have here, but without it, the Ridge Trail wouldn’t be able to keep on going” said Andre. “This [acquisition] protects the core of the Sunny Brae Forest from urban encroachment.”
The Schmidbauer Property boasts excellent views of Humboldt Bay, which could have made it lucrative to develop for housing.
Andre called the new tract “a really nice forest” with large trees and potential for two new trail routes. Like the rest of the City-owned forestlands, the new addition will be sustainably managed.
Some maintenance will be required, with some trail grooming and possibly installation of a new bridge. “There’s not a lot of work,” Andre said. “We just have to treat it carefully.”
Lovelace, who led the citizen effort to acquire the Sunny Brae Forest 10 years ago, said it was “real exciting to see it all come together.” He was in Sacramento last week on other business, and dropped in on the WCB meeting in which the grant was approved.
His opponent in the Third District race, Karen Brooks, said she appreciated the acquisition, but had concerns.
“The forest is a tremendous community asset but, as we go forward we cannot afford to lose our tax base,” she said. “If I can have the best of both worlds, it would be that we keep as much land privately held with conservation or recreation easements. This helps to maintain our tax base and provide trail access for public enjoyment.”
Continued Brooks, “The City has demonstrated that the park can be sustainably managed in timber production while affording valuable public access. This is a great model for other communities. Now, let’s take this same model for private property owners and work in cooperation to maintain our tax base so the City and the county can continue to provide services. Going back to Sierra Pacific and the Sunny Brae Forest, had we sat down with them and negotiated a recreational or conservation easement they could still keep and manage their land, government could still use the taxes from it and the public has a trail from Sunny Brae into the park.”
Lovelace pointed out that the forest remains in the county tax base until the City annexes it, and that it will continue to provide income from sustainable logging. “The whole idea is to keep it a working forest,” Lovelace said. “Without this, we could see it lost to residential development.”
“Going forward, it may not be so easy to find grants for outright acquisitions so new strategies will need to be forged,” Brooks said.
Andre confirmed that the City does pay property taxes on the county-area forest parcels it owns, and will continue to do so with Schmidbauer. It also pays timber yield taxes on any harvests.
"There are no plans to annex [Schmidbauer]," he said. "That's too much of a jump up the hill."
He said that forest access issues are settled on an individual basis, with the City working with landowners and honoring their wishes for their property. This has resulted in the mix of easements and purchases that compose the Ridge Trail.
"It's all case by case," Andre said. "You try to work out a deal and get easements when appropriate."
If the current situation was unforeseeable 10 years ago, what might we be attempting 10 years from now, forest-wise?
“Once we get these two connected, should we be providing a pedestrian-bicycle-equestrian trail that connects to other pieces?” Lovelace wondered.
On the south end of the Ridge Trail, he said, a trail might extend through the Baylands restoration Project. On the north end, a link might be forged to the Hammond Trail.
“It just becomes a larger trail link that we can build upon,” Lovelace said.
For now, he and Andre are focused on acquiring the Humphry Property. Andre said the City is seeking state and federal grants to augment other contributions for that purpose. He said the non-profit Trust for Public Lands was instrumental in the new parcel's acquisition, just as it had been in securing the Sunny Brae Forest 10 years ago.
“We’re looking forward to getting that last piece done,” Lovelace said.
You can help by making a tax-deductible donation to the Arcata Forest Fund, c/o the Humboldt Area Foundation, 373 Indianola Road, Bayside, CA 95524.