Sungnome Madrone: Rail Realism, Trail Respect – April 11, 2011

A recent article discussed the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), and a trail advocate by the name of Chris Weston. Chris is the newest of a long line of trail advocates here in Humboldt County and he is advocating for the Eel River Trail through the Eel River Canyon. His organization the Eel River Trail Association (ERTA) has collected over 10,000 signatures in a very short period of time, for the concept of a trail through the canyon along the RR right of way.

In general the article was supportive of trail advocates and realistic about future railroad prospects, but it was very harsh on a person working very hard to turn a vision into reality. Chris is not alone in this vision for a trail through the canyon. When I started working to build the Hammond Trail in 1985 I was labeled as a troublemaker and they said that any trail would bring crime and destroy the community. I had a vision as have many others that the Hammond Trail was possible and that trails were important and can improve a community well being and health. It is clear today that the Hammond Trail has benefited McKinleyville, Humboldt County, and all of our visitors. When you use the trail there are no Democrats, no Republicans, just people, adults and kids, bicycling, walking, skating and horse back riding. It is truly a wonderful thing. It takes people of vision, passion, and dedication to make these things happen, against great opposition and personal name-calling.

I was commissioned by the NCRA to inspect the erosion damage through the Eel River Canyon in the 1990s and found that the true cost of opening the line was in the billions, not millions. None of the repair estimates done for the NCRA (ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars) include the costs of cleanup of the river from cars, broken tracks and other wastes, nor the costs of opening up the hundreds of anadromous fish barriers along their right of way. Even more importantly this multi-million dollar effort would still have the tracks crossing landslide after landslide. My estimate of billions includes the true cost of complete cleanup, opening up all access to fish and building clear-span bridges over the landslides so that the tracks could stay open even after harsh winters. Realistically, that will cost several billion dollars, and it is not going to happen.

So, there are many of us (apparently more than 10,000) that have a vision of a trail trough this canyon that would attract visitors from near and far and lead to an excellent transportation alternative, as well as create an economic engine for our communities. Of course all the details are not worked out just as they were not for Hammond in 1986. It took 12 years to secure easements from private landowners to build the “Hole in the Hammond Section” the goes from Murray Road to Vista Point and loops through Widow White Creek.

Details currently known are that trails can change grade, allowing avoidance of slides, while train tracks cannot. Trails can be built in segments, while railroads need the whole line functioning. There is also lots of support for this trail from horse people, hikers, and bicyclists, and from others across the political spectrum. The BLM and National Park Service administer trails elsewhere and possibly could here. The trail construction can reduce erosion and help improve river and fish habitat. The rail corridor cannot simply be abandoned. Concerns expressed by ranchers and neighbors to the trail are valid, and can be mitigated for.

As trail advocates most of us want a complete network of trails within and between our communities, and connections to the communities that neighbor us. We always engage the community, especially the landowners along the trail. We find ways to meet their needs with fencing, landscaping  and other security and waste management needs.

I believe the Eel River Trail is doable and if we have RESPECT for each other along the way we can work out all of the details, meet the landowners concerns, and take the trail from VISION to REALITY.

Sungnome Madrone is a Trinidad resident.



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  1. kevpod said:

    This commenter is using the same computer as “ferdo77,” posting under a different name. Why the cheesy tradecraft?

  2. Humboldt Beacon said:

    The Humboldt Beacon is gathering comments on railbanking in the Eel River Valley, pro or con. I don’t work for them, but forward your thoughts to [email protected]

  3. ferdo77 said:

    The 10,000 or so signatures that Weston got are mostly bogus. Signers can be anyone – little kids, illegal aliens, convicted felons, blind, mentally retarded, etc. There are no standards to signature gathering, so the names are meaningless.

  4. Waldo said:

    Don’t you just hate seeing a typo after posting a comment?

  5. Waldo said:

    A couple of things bother the heck out of me regarding a trail along the Eel. First and foremost is that the word is already out that major growers trying to move in the Mendocino and S.Humboldt are planning on using the route to avoid highway 101 when moving their products north for shipment east. They will make use of the trail for actul hiking and biking impossible. The second thing that really bothers me (Ph.D. in an environmental field) is that currently the old right of way is being used as a dumping ground. Not just for trash but to dispose of hazardous and toxic materials. Those will need to be removed and it will cost a bundle. I spoke with a person connected with the Annie and Mary Trail, who assured me that the Railroad Authority will have to clean up the mess, but that is not so if the right of way is taken over. Look at the situation in Michigan where the people who had easements across their property are being sued in an effort to make them clean up problems that post date removal of the rails. The staggering amount of trash was not left by the railroads. If what is being called trash were not of high value, people like the company Mr. Weston works for would not want title to it. As to who destroyed the shoring in the tunnels (by removal of shoring and/or burning of same) I think that is no mystery.

    The only way to have a trail along the Eel that is safe and that can be maintained is if the railroad is restored first. The current price of fuel has reached the point where all railbanked lines could be restored under thw law that enabled trail building on land that actually remains theirs.

    The fact that keeping the right of way intact keeps it in the possession of the railroad means they will be liable for problems that arise. If a judge rules that ownership of the right of way changes when rail banking takes place, then there are other serious problems with the Constitution as it takes property away from the owners without just compensation.

    No matter how nice an Eel River trail might be made to seem, it just isn’t likely. So people shouldn’t let themselves be duped by those with a financial interest in the trails question. One thing that would have to be in place is a bond to cover mitigation of the damage that trails on former railroad beds have demonstrated. Currentlt Kentucky has the most realistic cost of said bonds at $10,000/mile. But that will be going up as it is in other states who are finding that the costs of these free trails is beyond their ability to cover.

  6. Ross Taylor said:


    We’re currently assessing fish passage at railroad crossings in the Eel River canyon, and the number of crossings with culverts on fish-bearing streams is in the dozens, not hundreds. Most of the larger fish-bearing streams are crossed with bridges that are not impediments to upstream migration of salmon and steelhead. Still, the track washouts, fill slope failures, collapsed tunnels and amount of trash left behind by the railroad is staggering.

  7. Theodor Woodings said:

    Have you walked the Hammond Trail lately? Its covered in garbage, dead appliances and graffiti. This trail has provided a place for young criminals to party, escape the police and harass the public. And this is in town. What do you think is going to happen out in the middle of nowhere? This proposed trail is going to attract so much criminal activity in the form of pot grows, garbage dumping and trespassing. Don’t forget search and rescue. The money it will cost for the EIR, (yes, you folks have to do one too) building and all the rest will be minor compared to the upkeep and maintenance. This whole project is a huge mistake and the public has been brainwashed. The amount of tourism it will bring will be so minimal it would not even begin to offset the cost. Railbanking is a scam and excuse to dismantle our local infrastructure.

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