Jun 6, 2020 Sonoma County Gazette
The primary goal of the California Coastal Act, approved by voters in 1976, is ensuring and providing for public access to the state’s shoreline and ocean.
One of the dreams imbedded in that goal is the creation of a continuous trail along the coast from the Oregon border to Mexico, the California Coastal Trail.
It’s a breath-taking dream
The California Coastal Trail (CCT), when completed, will rival the famed Appalachian Trail in the eastern U.S. Roughly 1150 miles long, it would encompass 800 miles of coastline with twists and turns, swift rises with equally swift descents, braided together through beaches, bluffs, roadways, stairways and boardwalks. The CCT will provide a ribbon of protection for coastal access and preservation of coastal resources along the California Coast.
View from a section of the California Coastal Trail. Image: unofficialnetworks.com
The Coastal Act mandated that each coastal county and city, as part of developing their own Local Coastal Plan, include the planning and implementation of the California Coastal Trail through their jurisdictions.
Sonoma County has done so since the mid-1970’s, with considerable success. About two thirds of the county’s 65 miles of the California Coastal Trail has been completed, and planning for the remaining gaps is included in the current Draft Local Coastal Plan.
Enormous thanks are due to the local citizens’ groups, regional and state parks agencies, nonprofit organizations and public funding agencies, whose hard work has brought us this far.
One of the leading organizations in that effort was, and continues to be, Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association, the statewide advocacy group for the Coastal Trail, formed in 1980, and headquartered in Sebastopol.
Morgan (Mo)(very left) and Joce (Jo) second from right, interns at the CA coastal trail association, embarked on an expedition from Oregon to Mexico on the California Coastal Trail in the summer of 2016. Richard Nichols, former Executive Director of Coastwalk California and one of the 1996 CCT thru-hikers and his wife Brenda (second from left) met up with them along the trail and shared their favorite memories of Coastwalk in its heyday and told Jo an Mo about the founder of Coastwalk, Bill Kortum, who was a coastal access activist and environmentalist. Image: coastwalk.org
Read more on the MoJo Coastwalk at https://coastwalk.org/?s=richard+nichols
Richard Nichols, a former Coastwalk Executive Director, and author of “Hiking the California Coastal Trail”, was instrumental in raising CCT awareness, securing planning funds, coordinating coastal county progress and yearly hikes, and two Coastal Trail thru-hikes from Oregon to Mexico.
Una Glass, a Sebastopol City Council member and former Coastwalk Executive Director, pushed and prodded Coastal Trail development through the lean years following the 2008 recession.
Cea Higgins, Executive Director of Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association congratulating honoree and co-founder Lucy Kortum May 2018- Image: www.facebook.com/coastwalk/
The current Coastwalk Executive Director, Cea Higgins, is a coastal resident and avid surfer. Cea is working to address impacts on the CCT such as sea level rise, and create opportunities for underrepresented communities to experience the CCT. Cea is also working to solve the current financial and social problems of Coastal Trail implementation.The 2020 Coastwalk Guided Hikes have been canceled due to the pandemic, which is impacting the financial well-being of the organization. Coastwalk continues to work with state, county and nonprofit organizations to support California Coastal Trail implementation.
You can join or donate to support the organization here: https://coastwalk.org/join-donate/
There are remaining gaps to completing the Coastal Trail in Sonoma County.
Blufftop homes along the Sea Ranch property. On the Sea Ranch property, the public trail dead ends at a “private trail,” which is only accessible to Sea Ranch homeowners and their guests. Today, you can walk through the full length of Sea Ranch if you are staying in the community. Image: coastwalk.org
Negotiations with Sea Ranch in the early 1980’s provided five neighborhood trails and beach access, a three-mile-long bluff top trail for public use, and a 120-acre donation to create Gualala Point Regional Park. Completion of the Coastal Trail would require a through trail 12 miles long (see map) from Gualala Point Regional Park south to connect with the proposed Kashia Coastal Preserve and Stewarts Point Ranch trails. Building this trail would require a considerable change in stance from Sea Ranch, where homeowners are wary of losing their privacy to hikers.
Click on map to view large zoomable and downloadable version. remaining gaps to completing the Coastal Trail in Sonoma County.
Another difficult area to implement is the seven-mile-long Highway 1 segment through Ocean Cove and Fort Ross ( see map). Highway 1, in places, is narrow and winding, and in numerous locations property owners have built into the highway right-of-way, complicating any planning process.A concerted planning effort was undertaken here, but natural and manmade complexities stalled the effort.
For the foreseeable future, Highway 1 will continue to be the Coastal Trail.
The management plan for the Jenner Headlands property (see map) includes a 2.5 mile segment of the Coastal Trail. Enhancement of the property has been underway by the Wildlands Conservancy for a decade. Public parking and restrooms and 15 miles of trails have recently been opened. When completed, the Jenner Headlands CCT segment will run from Russian Gulch to Jenner and connect with the Russian River Trail inland.
Jenner Headlands view. Image: Sonomacounty.com
South of the Russian River, the Carrington property (see map), soon to be added to the County Regional Park system, will provide two miles of Coastal Trail east of Highway 1 from Coleman Valley Road to Salmon Creek.
A Bodega Bay Trails Plan implementation has been ongoing for more than a decade, with Coastal Trail segments built both south and north of Bodega Bay such as the Coastal Prairie Trail.
Estero Ranch is riparian to the Estero Americano which meanders through the northern boundary of the ranch for over two miles
The recent acquisition of the Estero Ranch (see map) and subsequent CCT implementation will connect with the southern boundary of Bodega Harbour and traverse to the county line at the Estero Americano. Currently, the Coastal Trail south from Bodega Bay is on Highway 1.
A most difficult gap remains: how to construct a trail through Bodega Bay that will be affordable and provide maximum public safety for all trail users. A vital entity in Coastal Trail maintenance and improvement is CalTrans, especially in difficult areas such as Bodega Bay and Ocean Cove-Fort Ross. They are an integral part of Coastal Trail implementation.
Fisherboats at Bodega Harbor. Image: Frank Schulenburg / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
The dream of a continuous coastal trail has been actively pursued by hundreds of people and organizations for nearly fifty years. In reality, much has been accomplished but much work remains. The future will require the continued hard work of dedicated public agencies, nonprofits and coastal trail enthusiasts.
It’s a worthy, wonderful dream that, when finished, will provide beauty and enjoyment for future generations
BODEGA BAY – A hearty band of volunteers spent part of their weekend hauling chunks of boat wreckage up the side of a coastal bluff, completing a clean-up effort launched about a month ago when it became clear no one else planned to do anything about it.
The debris — splintered wood, twisted metal, pieces of Fiberglas hull, a tangle of wire and rope — was all that remained of a small boat that capsized in the surf near Pinnacle Gulch on Nov. 25, throwing a family of four in the ocean.
That family, rescued from the beach by helicopter and sent home to Sacramento, was technically responsible for removing the ruins of their watercraft.
But, as in other cases where boaters have walked away from crashed or grounded vessels on the Sonoma Coast, volunteers — led by well-known coastal steward Cea Higgins — picked up the slack.
“I wasn’t seeing anybody else stepping up to do it, and it was too much of a risk, with storms coming in,” said Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk/California Coastal Trail Association and a longtime officer with the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
She pointed out a mass of snarled cords, mesh and other materials waiting to be cleared from the beach last week. “This kind of netting and rope is pretty scary for marine mammals and entanglement.”
It’s a case that reflects on a confusing, frustrating area of coastal policy — and more broadly, on a sizable problem with derelict and abandoned vessels throughout California waterways.
There are rules that dictate which area of government should hold jurisdiction over each forsaken boat — depending which side of the mean high tide line it’s on, for instance. But the rules apply only if someone cares to consider the matter in the first place, if the jurisdictional lines are clear and if there is money available for the job, a rarity.
“It’s super convoluted,” said state Fish and Wildlife Officer Mitch Goode, who works with the department’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and has a lead role in state efforts to tackle the issue.
But there are hundreds of abandoned, sinking and nonseaworthy boats littering the Sacramento Delta, the extended reaches of the San Francisco Bay and all along the vast California coastline. They include three vessels that sank in Bodega Harbor years ago and yet remain, their owners in the wind or deceased.
The rusted steel hull of a fishing vessel driven up on South Salmon Creek Beach in 2016 also remains stranded in the surf line. Most of the hull is filled with sand.
“Anybody can become a fisherman, and if something bad happens, we’re all on the hook,” said self-styled “Coastodian” Richard James, a west Marin County environmental steward.
A Central Coast fisherman walked away from grounded vessels twice in 2012, months apart at the Point Reyes National Seashore and on the same Sonoma County beach near Pinnacle Gulch that was cleared Sunday of wreckage from November.
In the Point Reyes case, the National Park Service spent upwards of $80,000 demolishing and carting away a 43-foot commercial vessel owned by well-known fisherman Duncan MacLean, Supervisory Park Ranger John Eleby said. MacLean would soon ground another one in Bodega Bay, each time without insurance, Eleby and others said.
When MacLean grounded the 35-foot Sea Biscuit near Pinnacle Gulch and what Higgins calls Skimboarders’ Beach, volunteers were left with a mess of fuel-soaked debris far more toxic and troubling than the relatively small pile of sunbaked debris a group of 18 people tackled over the weekend.
“There’s no accountability,” James said, contending that owners can take their boats out uninsured and leave others holding the bag when they run into trouble.
In general, the process is clunky and inefficient when owners fail in their duty, leaving boats to break up and become environmental hazards, she said.
“It shouldn’t have to be that way. There should be processes in place. Because shipwrecks are a reality. We have treacherous beaches,” Higgins said.
Government agencies do not want to salvage wrecked boats unless it is part of their mandated responsibilities and they have funding for it, Goode said.
The U.S. Coast Guard is generally quick to arrange for removal of fuels and toxic substances from a stranded boat and might tow a vessel that’s deemed a hazard to navigation. But otherwise, boat salvage is not its function, officials said.
The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, working with the Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law enforcement arm, might pitch in to resolve a situation involving a grounded vessel that could harm sanctuary resources, but only if there are funds available, said MaryJane Schramm, sanctuary spokeswoman.
“Right now the ‘pot’ is empty,” she said in an email.
The California Coastal Commission, meanwhile, has responsibility for boats that come ashore below the mean high tide line, while the owner of whatever property lies above that line — often the county or the state — is supposed to bear the burden for vessels that land higher up shore.
The boat that capsized in November may fit that description. Photos taken at the time of the rescues show the overturned boat in the surf before it was broken up and the pieces tossed on the beach.
Higgins, worried that the styrofoam, rope and everything else would be swept back to sea, began collecting the fragments a few weeks later and stashing what she couldn’t carry up the cliff higher on the beach until king tides hit earlier this month and she knew she had to get it off the beach altogether.
“If I started saying, ‘It’s your job; you should do it,’ then it doesn’t yield the results I’m looking for, which is trying to minimize the impacts in the most expedient way possible,” she said.
County parks, which owns the beach, pitched in Saturday with personnel, a dump truck and other supplies, helping to leave the beach clean.
But Higgins, 56, concedes the process must be fixed so the environment isn’t paying the price for gaps in government responsibility.
“I’m not going to be here forever,” she said. “What happens when I’m not around? Who’s going to do this?”
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.
Check out this write-up in the Los Angeles Times about Coastwalk’s role in the intervention of the Hollister Ranch Settlement. Join us in taking action against the restriction of public access to the coast through public comment and supporting Coastwalk as we help support the development and stewardship of the California Coastal Trail!