Eco-Train, Rail and Depot – Community Development Plan for Masonite Site (Part 2)

From Earl Brown

4/3/09 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

The success of this mixed light industry, agriculture and eco-village is largely dependent upon the re-opening of the North West Pacific Rail Road track to Willits. There has been some investment into the rail system in Sonoma County and the Cloverdale rail station has been rebuilt. The track coming up from Cloverdale is open, or can be opened easily, to Ukiah. The track from Ukiah to Willits is open except for where it slumps crossing the top of the slide zone on the Willits Grade; this could be fixed with minimal time and expense. In fact, it would be a simple effort (non-politically speaking) to get the rail line re-opened to Willits. Tourism, particularly eco-tourism, is a virtually untapped economic resource for Mendocino County, utilizing our regions existing natural gifts and beauty to attract visitors at no expense, or investment. However, it does require financial investment into infrastructure (trails, campgrounds, transport), alternative power sources, support industry, and visitor accommodations. The ocean, rivers and mountains already exist we just need to add the tourists and sustainably move them around.

Mendocino County is the interface between the remaining wild-lands and the urban zones reaching up from the Bay Area. Ukiah and Willits are the gateway to experiencing the northern Mendocino County wilderness, the coast and points north. Although U.S. Highway 101 connects us fuel prices and the awareness of the hidden costs of oil (war, oppression, racism) will soon cut into people’s ability and desire to burn fossil fuels for personal pleasure. Affordable mass transit will be a necessity in the future. The existing rail system, to Willits, stands ready to be utilized for commuter transit, transport of local produce and products south, bring needed supplies north, to give tourists, specifically ecologically minded tourists, access to Mendocino County. The rail system can also be used, via the Skunk Train, to Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Coast. Already largely dependent on tourism, the Coast would quickly respond to the additional tourism with pleasure. During transition the train may have to use diesel but quickly fossil fuel could be replaced with veggie-diesel, other bio-fuel and/or possibly by solar power. Increasing eco-tourism brings income into the county, uses existing infrastructure, provides visitors with a memorable experience and educates the populace to the need for healthy ecosystems and communities.

An eco-village at the Masonite site would be a destination in itself and a step off point for local attractions as well as a rest stop on the way north to Willits, or Fort Bragg. Ukiah Valley has Lake Mendocino and the Russian River as its two main attractions. Hiking and biking paths along county roads, urban streams and the banks of the Russian River would add a lot to the local attractions and water sport activities could add to the attractiveness of the area. Although there are currently hazards in the Russian River channel (Norgard rubble dam, metal erosion control structures) between Ukiah and Cloverdale, with effort this stretch of river could be opened to commercial and recreational uses. As well as accessing local sites and businesses a shuttle from the eco-village could also take visitors to Clear Lake, Lake Pillsbury, Cache Creek, Bartlett Springs and other locations in Lake County. Ukiah could be the first destination inside Mendocino County for the Eco-Train with the potential benefit to the local economy.

North of Willits the track passes an old lumber mill and then runs along the edge of Outlet Creek, crossing several trestles, to the confluence of Outlet Creek and the Main Stem Eel River. The track turns north and follows the edge of the Eel River, passing through Tunnel One, a short tunnel through a rock outcropping, to about 3.5 miles north of the confluence where a large landslide is covering the track. The track is then closed for over 50 miles of “wild and scenic” Eel River wilderness canyon to Alder Point, northeast of Garberville. Day use access to the Main Eel River, with proper facilities and picnic areas, could become a popular outing for local hikers, bikers, boaters, and other river enthusiasts, as well as visitors. Willits is the gateway into Covelo Valley, the Middle Fork Eel River, the Yolla Bolly Wilderness, the Sinkyone Wilderness Area, and Southern Humboldt County, all of which has something to offer any visitor and especially eco-tourists.

The old mill site just north of Willits could be turned into another eco-village destination, similar to the Ukiah village and be the end-of-the-line for the typical visitor. A previous stop at the Willits Station could be the connection to the Skunk Train and the Mendocino coast. The Skunk Train ridership is about 60,000 people per year and stands ready to accommodate many more. With an increase in Skunk ridership the City of Fort Bragg could afford to create additional attractions for visitors to the Coast. From the Willits eco-village a shuttle train (solar or veggie oil) could take both locals and visitors out to the Eel River, along Highway 162, for river day use, hiking, swimming and boating. The end-end of the track would be Tunnel One, which would be converted into a visitor center, hostel and trailhead for wilderness access. The tunnel would be fitted with a solar panel array for power, a re-charging station for the shuttle train, contain emergency medical supplies and limited sleeping accommodations for visitors staging for multiple day excursions. A shuttle to Covelo and the Yolla Bolly Wilderness would be operated out of the Willits eco-village for people wishing for a distinctly remote wilderness experience.

People could get on the train in San Francisco, or Sacramento, take a dinner ride up to Ukiah for a weekend of wine tasting. They may take in a leisurely bike ride around the valley or maybe rent a kayak on the Russian River. They would stay in local hotels and Inns, eat in local restaurants and purchase locally produced products. Some people would continue on up to Willits for a weekend on the river, or to go to Fort Bragg and the accommodations on the Coast. After a relaxing weekend enjoying the out of doors, leisurely train rides through interesting landscapes, good food, good entertainment and healthy communities, they take their experiences back anticipating their next weekend get-away.

A Potential Community Development Plan for the Masonite Site – Part 1
Eco-Train, Rail and Depot – Part 2
Ecologically-Oriented Tourism – Part 3
Rail to Trail – Part 4
Autonomous Waste Water Treatment System – Part 5
Community Interpretive Watershed and Visitor’s Center – Part 6
Food Processing Facility – Part 7

Small Diameter Pole Processing Mill – Part 8
Fiber Processing and Re-Manufacture Mill – Part 9