Sunny Brae residents Natalia Collier and Adam Brown know this trail. Up Buttermilk Lane, past the middle school and left onto Margaret, where a large army-green water tank marks the trailhead and a concrete staircase on the right rises into the Sunny Brae portion of the Arcata Community Forest. Collier, Brown and their dog Casey hike here at least once a week. This new trail is a welcome dose of solitude and near-wilderness in their backyard, but, says Brown, "It's so new, there aren't any names or signs up yet, and most people really don't use this part." Well, technically, the Sunny Brae section of the Arcata Community Forest isn't open.
Not just yet.
But it will be, and soon more folks will hike and love it because this trailhead also marks the start of the Arcata Ridge Trail, which is getting closer and closer to completion. That means if you want to hike from Sunny Brae over to West End Road — that spot under the 101 overpass with those concrete curb-like structures will be the other trailhead — you'll be able to bike, hike or horseback ride the 3.8-mile trek by summer 2014. By spring, the northern portion of the Arcata Ridge Trail, which begins on West End Road, should be ready for exploration, and sometime in February 2014, the south fork of the Janes Creek Loop trail will be open.
The Arcata Ridge Trail started out as an idea about 15 years ago, according to Kirk Cohune, a principal at Greenway Partners and a community trail volunteer. The goal was to connect South Arcata (Sunny Brae) with north Arcata (West End Road) via trails and create a system where responsible timber harvest and volunteer support would sustain the trail's management. Mark Andre, Arcata's environmental services director, acquired land and conservation easements throughout these timber lands. In 2000, Sierra Pacific, the company that owned the forest adjacent to Sunny Brae, wanted to log the hillside. Enter Sunny Brae local and now Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace. He and concerned neighbors formed the Sunny Brae Neighborhood Alliance to stop large-scale logging near their homes. When Sierra Pacific finally offered to sell the land, the Alliance and the community raised $100,000 to help Arcata buy the property and turn it into a community forest. The cash allowed Mark Andre to secure matching grants from the U.S. Forest Service, CALTRANS, the California Department of Forestry and other agencies, and in 2006, Arcata bought most of the Sunny Brae part of the forest.
There's a nice sign near the trailhead thanking many state and community organizations for the forest's conservation. Again, not open yet. And just because other folks are hiking doesn't mean you won't get a ticket. Of course, hypothetically, if a reporter did accidentally hike its wide paths in all their splendor before she knew it was closed, it might have been magical. Think redwoods, Doug firs, Bigleaf maples. She might have seen faded, broad leaves twisting and falling all along the hillside, sunlight dappling them as they dance their way down to the forest floor. Add sunshine, crisp sky and a gentle, late autumn breeze, and it would have hypothetically been the stuff of fairies, wizards, sprites and unicorns. It's the perfect place for the Arcata Ridge Trail to begin. (Of course, said reporter also might have gotten lost for a couple of hours with no signs to guide her, and she may have been very grateful to have brought a friend, a phone and plenty of water.)
Can't wait to get in there? Dennis Houghton heads up the trail maintenance crew for the City of Arcata, and he often needs volunteers. Maybe you could help. Craft some sweet signage for these amazing community trails with Houghton, his crew and a legion of community volunteers. Contact Dennis at 707-822-8184.