Land conservation agencies and local jurisdictions are teaming up behind a bold new plan to build a trail that would allow people to travel by foot, bicycle or horse from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.
The Bay to Sea Trail, while still in its conceptual design phase, would, as envisioned now, be a multiuse path that would run from Bair Island in Redwood City to Half Moon Bay, moving past Edgewood County Park, through Huddart County Park and the Phleger Estate, through Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, onto Burleigh H. Murray Ranch State Park and Johnston Ranch, into Wavecrest Open Space Reserve. Another trail segment on the conceptual map would run from Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve along a path south past Lobitos Creek to Cowell Ranch State Beach.
On the Bay side, it could also include a trail segment that would run from the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve in East Palo Alto through Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks to Redwood City along the Dumbarton rail right-of-way.
It would build off of existing trails as well, such as the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the Bay Trail, and the California Coastal Trail, according to Rachael Faye, public access project manager with the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).
According to Faye, POST will be operating as the "backbone" of the initiative and act as project manager. That agency has been talking about the idea since as early as 2005, but it wasn't until recently that the organization made the vision a priority.
For the project to come together, though, it will take time – early documents point to a goal of project completion by 2037 – and the support of a number of different agencies, she explained. The agency is collecting letters of intent indicating support for the project from the following agencies: San Mateo County (including the parks and public works departments and the Office of Sustainability), the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the Coastside Land Trust, the Coastal Conservancy, the California Parks Department, and the cities of Redwood City and Half Moon Bay.
"We all share this vision, and we want to contribute to it in the various ways we each can to make it become a reality," Faye said. "It takes a team."
Next, the agencies will assemble a planning coalition and initiate public outreach to work through questions like: What kind of experiences should the trail offer different user groups? Where will the route go? What existing trails should be melded into this path? What new trails will need to be designed and developed?
A Dumbarton trail?
Faye said POST and other coalition agencies hope to see a path that runs along the Dumbarton rail corridor. The rail line now runs through East Palo Alto, the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, and North Fair Oaks, areas that currently offer "very little safe active transportation (opportunity)," she said. If a multiuse path were supported there, she said, "It would make a really unique, high-quality recreational experience along that corridor."
The rail corridor is currently being studied by SamTrans and the Plenary Group, supported by Facebook, to determine whether it is feasible to rebuild and reactivate the old transbay rail line.
Faye said the planning coalition is waiting to see what the feasibility study finds, adding, "I hope we can be a voice in the conversation to support active transportation."
Because of the uncertainty of whether a multiuse path along the rail line will be technically feasible, the cities of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto were not asked to participate in the initial planning coalition, she said.
The more straightforward route to start with will be to work with the city of Redwood City to develop a route from Bair Island to Huddart Park, and then farther west through MROSD's Purisima Creek Redwood Open Space Preserve, she said.
The trail type and conditions would likely differ depending on the terrain being traversed, Faye explained. In the more urban areas, it might be as simple as a set of wayfinding signs or a separated bike lane, while in open space areas, it could include new multiuse trail segments.
Specific features of the trail, such as whether dogs would be permitted, or whether there would be overnight camping opportunities for people who wish to travel the whole route from point to point, are still to be determined, she said.
"It would be so great if we could create overnight opportunities along the way," she said. "It's something that's in the back of our minds."
While a minority of people might choose to hike or bike the whole extent of the trail, she explained, more would use it in smaller segments. Even so, it will provide an opportunity to connect communities, enable people to experience the different habitats that make up the Peninsula and connect the north-to-south trails that already exist or are in development.
Ultimately, it could enable one to travel by trail all the way from Redwood City to San Francisco and beyond, she added.
Complementary MROSD projects
MROSD is already working on two trail projects that could be part of the final Bay to Sea Trail, district spokesperson Leigh Ann Gessner said.
One is a trail segment in the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve that crews are expected to begin work on this fall, and the other is the Purisima to the Sea Trail, which would connect the Bay Area Ridge Trail in the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve to the Coastal Trail along the coast in Half Moon Bay.
The agency just recently acquired the last "puzzle piece" of the land needed to make that trail possible, Gessner said. The next step for that trail segment to become reality is to start the planning process for where the trail would go and begin public outreach, she added.
When MROSD put together a long-term plan in 2014, it was clear to the district that Peninsula residents have a strong desire for a network of trails to connect people to public open spaces, so this project aligns well with that vision, she said.
A connected trail network isn't just good for people, Gessner added. "It benefits wildlife, who also need to be able to move through the landscape safely to access food, water and habitats they need."