“Great Redwood Trail” Plans to Destroy Mendocino County Rail

Last Updated: April 4, 2024By

By Michael D. Setty, TRAC President

The “Great Redwood Trail Agency” (GRTA) has released its plan for its “Great Redwood Trail” (greatredwoodtrail.org) would destroy what remains of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) route between Cloverdale, Ukiah, Willits, and Eureka. The GRTA proposal would construct 231 miles of trail mostly on top of the existing NWP grade.

A key part of the Great Redwood Trail plan is to “railbank” the NWP tracks between Cloverdale, Ukiah and Willits mainly located within Mendocino County. In effect, railbanking allows construction of an “interim” trail on top of a railroad grade after removal of the tracks. Supposedly, this preserves the right-of-way for future reintroduction of rail lines “when needed” at some vague time in the future. In reality, as far as TRAC is aware, no rail line has ever been restored over the nearly 40 years after the U.S. Congress created ‘railbanking” as a tool of trail advocates.

The irony of this situation is destroying the NWP through Mendocino County is not required to construct the Great Redwood Trail in those segments where potential usage justifies its construction. In the cities of Arcata, Eureka, Willits and Ukiah, for example, local trails have already been constructed alongside existing NWP rails. All these trails have proven popular while the tracks remain. Why GRTA doesn’t consider this approach in segments where freight and passenger service could be viable (i.e., Cloverdale-Ukiah-Willits, with a connection to the Skunk Train with 100,000+ passengers per year) leaves TRAC scratching our collective heads.