The Emma McCrary Trail Opens

by Brooke Wright

May 28, 2013—Santa Cruz’s first trailbuilding project in 14 years officially comes to a close at 10am on Saturday, June 1, with a ribbon-cutting at the Emma McCrary Trail in Pogonip. Together with the existing network of trails to the north and east of Pogonip, the new 1.5-mile groomed dirt trail will allow bikers to access the region’s abundant trail network without so much as the turn of an ignition key.

“This was the missing link,” says Drew Perkins, the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBoSC) volunteer-turned-city park employee who spearheaded the project together with other club members and city staff. “It connects to all UCSC trails and all Wilder trails. It really creates a loop that is almost car-free from Wilder, across UCSC, down the loop, and down West Cliff. It’s 20-25 miles without dealing with cars.”

Perkins says the trail was designed for all riding levels to enjoy, integrating banked turns and dips on a smooth trail with long sightlines that could even be handled on a road bike.

“That was one of the design goals,” Perkins says. “Something not intimidating but still fun.”

The trail’s namesake, Emma McCrary (1930-2011), was an avid trail advocate and equestrian who helped build the last trail constructed in Santa Cruz, the U-Conn Trail. Completed in 1999, the U-Conn connects Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to Upper UCSC (and by extension Wilder Ranch State Park) for equestrians, and also gives a way to cross from the eastern side of UCSC to Highway 9 on a bike.

The McCrary Trail starts just after the San Lorenzo levee bike path ends and finishes at its junction with the U-Conn, near Highway 9. It is the only legal way to travel from town to the trail network without riding on busy roads.

“Right now you have to either drive up Highway 9 or ride the train track, which is trespassing, so it provides a way for people to get from town to trails,” says Perkins.

The purpose of the trail was not just to benefit bikers and equestrians, however. The city and park officials hoped it would peacefully discourage homeless encampments and drug activity that have formed on the eastern edge of Pogonip by providing a legal commotion in that area on a daily basis.

“The experience on the U-Conn trail when it was created is it deterred the negative uses,” says City of Santa Cruz Parks Superintendent Mauro Garcia. “We are continuing to put pressure on illegal activities and we are also pushing hard to get services for these folks, something the whole community is dealing with.”

Garcia added that his predecessor went for a walk recently and was surprised by the lack of encampments along the trail.

“What we have seen is trail crews aren’t experiencing (encampments) as they did when construction initially began. It’s become more rare that we are seeing it.”

Full Circle Trail
The idea for the trail dates back to plans for a “circle trail” around the city, but gained steam when MBoSC volunteers, including Perkins, took city staff on a short hike several years ago. With the city’s approval, the trail crews started construction. Hundreds of volunteer hours went into the project.

The planning and building process took nearly two years from start to finish due to the city’s concerns over the trail’s environmental impacts.

“We had to take a better look at any impact we had out there,” says Garcia. “We said, ‘Let’s slow down and make sure we do this all right, and get input from community. It’s too important to rush.’”

Perkins, with trail building experiencing in San Luis Obispo, in Swanton with Bud and Emma McCrary and in Wilder, was the obvious choice when the city decided to hire a trail construction supervisor.

“The city told me last March they were thinking of hiring someone to work on it and supervise the construction, so [they] hired me as temporary park maintenance.”

A couple months later, construction moved into full swing and only just finished with two 35-foot bridges, each weighing 7,000 pounds. “It took a lot longer than I thought it would, especially building the bridges,” says Perkins, adding that maneuvering 30-foot, 1,000-pound beams through the woods was no small feat.

The $32,000 MBoSC raised for the project included about $8,000 for tools that will be used on future trail building and maintenance projects, including a four-mile trail in Soquel Demonstration Forest that will break ground later this year.

The hard-earned and long-awaited McCrary Trail promises to offer a fun, smooth ride for all levels, and, like so many trails before it, a fresh vantage point from which to experience Santa Cruz.

“We put 350 hours into designing it before we even started it,” says Perkins. “We wanted to make it really polished and good.”

THE CEREMONY Wondering if all that work paid off? Go Saturday and find out! The opening ceremony is at 10am on Saturday, June 1. Mayor Hilary Bryant, Bud McCrary, trail designer Drew Perkins and city parks superintendent Mauro Garcia will each speak a few words, perform a ribbon-cutting, and then take the trail together. Organizers welcome all equestrians, cyclists, hikers, dog owners (with leashes) and anyone who might use the trail to join the celebration.

According to the city’s website, there will also be refreshments courtesy of Rebecca's at the Tannery, Verve and Odwalla, as well as bike valet by People Power. Check here for more info.

The Bike Fest Cometh
The Pogonip
Wilder Ranch State Park