Rail to Trail – Community Development Plan for Masonite Site (Part 4)


Apr 15, 2009, Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

Non-Motorized Access to the Eel River Canyon

The North West Pacific Railroad system up through Sonoma County, from the Bay Area, has been shut down for years. North of Willits the track runs along the edge of Outlet Creek to the confluence of Outlet Creek and the Main Stem Eel River, eight miles north of Highway 101, on Highway 162. At the confluence of Outlet Creek and the Main Stem Eel River the track turns north and follows the Eel River 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” wilderness river canyon to Alder Point, northeast of Garberville. The track north of Alder Point is either open, or easily re-opened, to Eureka and Arcata. Due to the cost of the work needed, the impact it would have on threatened and endangered species, the minimal amount of natural resources left to extract, the cost of on-going maintenance, and the political battle it would take to get permitted, the canyon will not be re-opened for train traffic.

Although there has been considerable effort and money spent on trying to get the Eel River Canyon re-opened with the fifty plus mile stretch deemed “within our technological ability” to re-open, it is not within the “public good” to do so. Much of the Eel River Canyon is comprised of the Yorkville soil series, Blue Goo, anaerobic blue clay that is completely unstable, commonly found with Serpentine outcroppings and slides naturally. The train track is constructed at the bottom of the canyon walls, just above the high water mark of the river, cutting away the toe (base/bottom- like cutting off your foot at the ankle) of the hillside destabilizing the slope even more. Blue Goo is like axle grease when wet, travels for miles in the water column and has particles so small they are among the last to settle out of the water column covering the spawning gravels. This, and other, fine sediment fills the spaces between the gravel and restricts fresh water to the eggs so they rot and/or it entraps the salmon and steelhead fry that do hatch under the sediment and they suffocate (lack of fresh water). A better use for the land can be imagined that creates multiple benefits to the people of Mendocino County, the Eel River, the landowners, and nature enthusiasts everywhere.

This plan suggests that a suitable use for the Eel River Canyon rail right-of-way is a wild and scenic, non-motorized wilderness trail. Dos Rios to Alder Point is forty seven river miles, traversing many habitat and geology zones, passing through many tunnels, including the one-mile long Island Mountain tunnel, once the world’s longest man-made tunnel. This section of rail is a natural “Rails to Trails” project, with huge benefit to the environment and could be a huge economic boon to Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. As the consumer economic structure collapses people will be looking for meaningful, nearby, enjoyable, memorable vacation experiences. Not everyone will want to walk, or bike, or raft, forty seven miles through the wilderness yet it could be the crown jewel of Northern California’s natural adventures for those who do. With the rail open up to Willits, residents and visitors to Mendocino County could choose to spend their vacation experiencing the Eel River Canyon.

There are forty seven miles of twin steel rails that could be utilized for bridging side streams and natural drainages that are tributary to the Eel, some of which are historic salmon and steelhead spawning streams. There are numerous box cars, track, washed out culverts for stream crossings and drainages, bridge sections from the old Island Mountain trestle, and a locomotive engine scattered in the river. All of this material needs to be removed from the river channel. The cost of removing this debris from the canyon would be very expensive. However, it could be cut up into smaller sections and removed from the river and taken above the high water line. An intriguing idea is to take these odd, irregular and often twisted pieces of metal and commission modern sculptors to create art along the trail where it was removed. This would save the cost of removal and create novelty and curiosity along the trail as additional attractions.

The tunnels along the track could be fitted with solar panels and be turned into wilderness hostels. They could have fold-down sleeping platforms anchored to the walls with twelve volt lights run off the solar and be emergency medical and communication capable. The tunnels would provide shelter and protection form the elements, docent quarters, information kiosks and more as the project is developed (an added attraction would be if landowners allowed limited access to points of interest along the trail). The community of Island Mountain could become a destination in itself, developing camping, river support service and supplies, hunting and fishing guides and other attractions to be developed.

From the eco-village in Willits, a small solar, or bio-diesel, shuttle train would take ecologically minded tourists and their equipment out to the Tunnel One reception center for staging for the wilderness trail. Some will be walking the trail, some biking, and others rafting or kayaking. There would be a mix of people, visitors and locals, going to the river for a day of picnic and river recreation, and a chance to interact with like minded people. The shuttle would pick up any visitors coming down the trail from Alder Point and take them back to the Willits eco-village to connect with a south (Ukiah), or west (Fort Bragg), bound train, for more fun and excitement.

For example:
People interested in spending the weekend in Mendocino County would get on the eco-train in San Francisco, or Sacramento, take a dinner ride up to Ukiah Friday (or Thursday) after work and stay at a comfortable Hotel, or Inn. On the train there is a diverse group of people coming to Mendocino County, each for their own reasons. Some are coming for a weekend wine tasting, some to take in a pleasant bike ride around the valley or maybe some mountain biking, others might rent a kayak on the Russian River, take the Skunk Train to Fort Bragg, or continue up to Willits. Some are headed up to Covelo and the Yolla Bolly Wilderness and need a shuttle from Willits; others are bound for the Eel River Canyon and the wilderness trail to Alder Point. While in Mendocino County the visitors would stay in local hotels and Inns, eat in local restaurants and purchase locally produced products. After a relaxing weekend enjoying the Mendocino County out of doors, the leisurely train rides through interesting landscapes, good food, good entertainment and friendly people, they take their experiences back home anticipating their next weekend get-away.

If the community of Alder Point joined in to became a support community for eco-tourism and localization, they could enjoy many of the same benefits, much of which would come from Humboldt and Trinity sources. A few, maybe more, of the visitors to Mendocino County may be touring the West Coast and after hiking/biking/rafting the wilderness trail they might take the train north from Alder Point to Eureka and points beyond. We live in a beautiful region with multiple attractions for visitors and residents alike. This plan lays out the basic concept of the Eel River Wilderness Trail, a few things that could happen during its development and a few potential benefits of doing so. The concepts are offered in simplistic form so people unfamiliar with eco-tourism can get the overall idea without being bogged down by details. There is considerable work to do in fleshing out the skeleton idea presented.

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

One Comment

Brilliant article, thanks 🙂