IT'S A GREAT WORK SITE, THAT'S
Heavy equipment operator Matt
Smith turns around and scans the horizon: To the west is Clam Beach, to
the north is Trinidad Head and to the east are bluffs dotted with lupines.
To the south is a long stretch of half-finished trail winding up a slope
to Vista Point.
That is the Hammond Trail and
its supporters are about to celebrate another victory: A section connecting
two already existing stretches is nearing completion. After September you'll
be able to walk the entire northern half of the trail -- from Letz Avenue
on the north side of Widow White Creek in McKinleyville to Strawberry Creek
just north of Clam Beach County Park. The section within Clam Beach was
completed just this spring.
Trail users can already walk
from the southern half, from its southern terminus at the Hammond Bridge
north to the south side of Widow White Creek. A summer footbridge over the
creek for hikers, which will connect the trail into one whole, is planned
for 2002 or 2003. Horses, bikers, rollerbladers and stroller pushers would
have to follow another as yet unfinished trail on the Mad River's bank back
south to Murray Road and north on Letz Avenue to meet up with the hiker
trail on the north side of Widow White Creek. There is no marked trail to
connect the two sections, although one could walk on the beach north to
Clam Beach and pick the trail up there again.
The trail's growth hasn't been
easy. It was started in 1979 by Humboldt County, the Coastal Conservancy
and Caltrans. The intention was to have the route follow the Hammond/Little
River railroad grade from the Hammond Bridge over the Mad River to Clam
The grade was reasonably level,
broad and -- most importantly -- allowed the trail builders to acquire the
right-of-way for the entire length of the trail from a single landowner,
Trueman Vroman. Vroman had purchased it from Louisiana-Pacific, which had
acquired it from the original owners, the Hammond Lumber Co.
But mother nature didn't cooperate.
The mouth of the Mad River began migrating northward in 1981, allowing waves
from the ocean to break on the coastal bluffs that carried the railroad
grade. In 1993 Caltrans put down rip rap, an anti-erosion material made
of quarried rock, to stop the river from washing out the freeway above Clam
Beach, but the damage was done: Waves had washed out large parts of the
grade from Vista Point south to Widow White Creek.
The setback was almost the end
of the Hammond Trail project. Faced with the prospect of finding a new route
and securing right-of-way from multiple landowners, by 1985 the county was
ready to give up. The trail had only been completed from the bridge in Arcata
to Knox Cove at the end of Murray Road in McKinleyville.
"That's when the Redwood
Community Action Agency got involved," said Sungnome Madrone (photo
at top). Madrone is the director of the Natural Resources Services division
of RCAA, a nonprofit private corporation, which stepped in to fill the vacuum
left by the county.
It was slow going. In 1985 RCAA
started a feasibility study. It would be eight years before the agency was
able to complete another section of trail and continue the trail's progress
"For eight years we met
with private landowners, all the government agencies and all the user groups
to determine the best rerouting of the trail," Madrone said.
The most difficult facet of
rerouting was finding private landowners willing to allow the trail to use
"Originally, I had lots
of concerns," said property owner Bud Slagle. Worried that strangers
would have access to his backyard, potentially causing trouble or disturbing
him, Slagle was initially opposed to the idea. It was only the perseverance
of Madrone, he said, that made him -- and other landowners along the route
"When I first met him,"
Slagle said, "I didn't want the trail going through. But I changed
my mind." Madrone told Slagle how the trail could actually clean up
his property and make it safe by discouraging transients from using it as
"We have 35 acres, a couple
ponds, some trees. And they [the transients] camp out up there." Slagle
said he hopes the trail will attract "more upscale people" and
help drive away transients he does not want using his property.
Madrone said landowners had
other concerns, such as racing motorcycles. The solution? Put obstacles
at the trailheads that make it difficult or impossible to get a motorcycle
But Madrone's most effective
solution to residents' concerns has been patience. Working with residents
and taking their concerns seriously has done a lot to convince them to cooperate,
"He does have patience,"
Slagle said. He admits to being skeptical of Madrone at first, but eight
years later he counts him as a "good friend" -- so much so that
he has hired Madrone as a consultant.
Today, Slagle is looking forward
to the Hammond Trail being completed.
"I have a bike and it'll
be nice to have access to Clam Beach."
Slagle won't be limited to a
bike. Trail users also hike, rollerblade, jog and ride a horse. That's what
makes the trail special, said the trail's project supervisor, Chris Turner.
"This trail is an important
project because it is the premier -- really the only -- multiuse trail in
Humboldt County or even this region of California," Turner said.
Being a multiuse trail is more
than a matter of carrying that label. The trail's design and construction
has several nuances to allow for varied users. There are shoulders made
of rock for equestrians and hikers and a paved central path for bicycles
and rollerbladers. The trail has been made wide enough to allow families
to go hiking with baby strollers.
One section of trail where bicyclists
might disobey posted speed limits and spook horses have been left unpaved
to discourage excessive speed, but most of the trail has been paved to accommodate
rollerbladers. And 90 percent of the slopes have been kept mild enough for
people in wheelchairs to navigate.
Turner knows all those details
intimately as he is responsible for supervising the physical work done on
the trail. He knows that what looks to the layman like a seamless ribbon
is really the product of a long and involved process, including as many
as four layers of material.
Aaron operating a soil compaction machine called a Vibraplate.
For the portion of trail that's
being completed today, trail crews had to create a bed by excavating dirt
on the uphill side and filling it in downhill of the trail. Then they laid
a cloth followed by a honeycomb-like plastic webbing called "cellular
confinement material" that keeps the dirt in place. That layer is covered
by another of cloth and, finally, gravel is put down and compacted. The
final product is a trail that costs more than $80 a foot and which Turner
estimates will be around "100 years or more."
Trail building is serious construction
business and the people wearing hardhats and operating the heavy machinery
certainly look professional. Not so, Turner says. While the workers are
able and hard-working, very few are being paid; they are almost all volunteers.
Sometimes Turner has a crew
assembled for him by groups like the Humboldt Trail Coalition, which links
volunteers with trail projects. Occasionally he'll have a group from the
Sheriff's Work Alternative Program, which puts low-risk inmates to work.
Right now he has an AmeriCorps
crew, people who have dedicated a year of their lives to community service
in return for hard work, $15 day and a the promise of a $4,275 scholarship
toward future studies or student loans.
"They do competent work,
pick up fast. They're smart and capable," said Turner of his crew.
None of them arrived on the job knowing how to build a trail, but they do
almost all the work, he said. That includes digging, laying brick, watering
soil for better compaction and operating miniature backhoes and gas-powered
Then there are a few jobs involving
larger heavy equipment that have to be left to career construction workers
like Matt Smith.
The group of AmeriCorps Crew members (left) and AmeriCorps
members Chimberly Carter and Clare Seagraves.
crew working at Vista Point had previously worked with at-risk youth in
Reno, tutored elementary school kids in San Marcos and built houses in Spokane.
Crew member Clare Seagraves of Portsmouth, Va., said, "This has been
my favorite project. The sponsors are awesome and the people are really
Crewmate Chimberly Carter agreed.
Carter, from Dallas, Texas, said that the people she had met in Humboldt
County have been very generous.
"They give so much of themselves
-- and so much to the project, just to see it completed." She said
she and other crew members have received free food, bowling and rafting.
"Humboldt County has been
good to us," she said.
Turner said he hopes tourists
will make use of the trail and come away with similar positive feelings.
"It's key in our area,
in relation to dwindling natural resources extraction industries, to balance
our industrial (economic base) by providing a tourist infrastructure."
He said the trail could encourage visitors stay in the area a little longer,
see the area a little more completely, have a beneficial experience, "then
relay that home -- Humboldt County can actually be destination."
Economic potential aside, the
trail should really be about improving life for county residents, Turner
"It's a quality of life
indicator that people can get out and recreate in this area. People will
have nonvehicle access to points of recreation where they can go fishing,
surfing, sight-seeing or be out on the beach," he said.
"Once it's completed, it
will be a model for the rest of Humboldt County and the surrounding area
as to what a multi-use trail can really provide the community."
Interested in helping the
Hammond Trail or other trails around Humboldt County? Call the RCAA at 269-2065
or the Humboldt Trails Coalition
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