Coming Soon: Cycling Around Monterey Bay

Keep reading if you like: Rail Trail, Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail, cycling, walking, Monterey Bay

by Hanae Armitage

Nov. 8, 2013–The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission has adopted a blueprint for Santa Cruz County’s 50-mile portion of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST). The MBSST will traverse beaches, ocean bluffs and exquisite countryside, tracing the coast from the Santa Cruz/San Mateo county line down to Pacific Grove in Monterey County. The Santa Cruz County portion will use the 32-mile Branch Rail Line between Watsonville and Davenport as a guide.

Projected time of completion for the $126.7 million dollar Santa Cruz County megatrail is years away, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Our part of the MBSST is segmented into 20 discrete components, essentially breaking down the extensive network of trails into puzzle pieces that contribute to the collective picture at the end.

Construction on at least one segment could begin soon. On Oct. 22 the Santa Cruz City Council voted to pursue funding for a key section of the Rail Trail (the term for the part of the MBSST that runs along the Branch Rail Line); the three-mile segment will extend from Natural Bridges to the Boardwalk along the railroad right of way and cost an estimated $5.3 million, $1 million of which will come from city coffers. The rest will be from grants, if all goes as planned.

The Sentinel reports that South County farmers have expressed concerns over trespassing and potential clashes with trail users and environmental regulators over field fumigation and other agricultural activities taking place near the MBSST. While their request to have a four-mile segment of the trail stricken from the plan was declined, the RTC has agreed to address their concerns.

The Branch Rail Line, purchased in October 2012 from Union Pacific by the RTC for $14.2 million, is key to the MBSST in Santa Cruz, as it will form the “spine” of the braided network of trails for its 32-mile length. Smaller MBSST trails will spike off the Rail Trail, steering cyclists and pedestrians into the nooks and crannies of the terrain surrounding Monterey Bay. According to the executive summary of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Final Master Plan, 88 parks, 42 schools, and over half the county’s population are to be found within one mile of the corridor.

Besides creating an attraction for tourists, the MBSST will create safer cycling routes in Santa Cruz County, where at least four cyclists have died in collisions with cars in the last five years, with many more injured. The most recent victim was 40-year-old Joshua Alper, who was killed on Highway 1 six days ago when a driver fell asleep and veered across the road.

With the RTC handling trail construction in Santa Cruz County and the Transportation Agency for Monterey County taking charge of the trails in Monterey, the goal is an integrated network that successfully links the two counties together. Much of the Monterey County portion of the MBSST (from Pacific Grove to Castroville) is already complete.

With additional reporting by Traci Hukill