The North Section of the Noyo Headlands Park trail was completed in early 2015. Now, with the completion of the southern section of the trail, visitors are raving about the results, according to Marie Jones, Community Development Director for the City of Fort Bragg.
The southern segment of the Coastal Trail is accessed by turning west on Cypress Street from downtown Fort Bragg. The 93-acre park will be finished following the construction of the central trail section, with completion estimated at about two years from now.
Ten years, millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work by City of Fort Bragg staff have resulted in a breathtaking, inspiring trail system, created through rigorous funds acquisition, an enormous amount of environmental mitigation and dedicated community support.
The two trails provide unique experiences, according to Jones. “Many locals go to the south trail, which is wilder and more dramatic,” she explains.
“During this process, we forged strong relationships with local tribes because this land is sacred to them. This experience helped me realize how profoundly Native Americans honor their lands. Through our consultation process, archeologists confirmed the location of identified and hidden cultural sites,” she explains. Site locations are not publicly reported, but tribal members may have access to these locations and the native plants and animals that inhabit the area. “We’re gratified that no disturbance to cultural sites occurred,” Jones notes.
The park was formerly part of the Georgia Pacific lumber mill. Portions of the South Trail were once the mill’s organic disposal site. Today’s trail was built on imported fill- lots of it. “We brought in 40,000 cubic yards—4,000 truckloads of compost from local brewery waste,” Jones notes. “What you’re walking on is between 10 and 25 feet of fill material from the mill. The bluff top seems natural, but in its untouched state, it would be half as high,” Jones notes, adding that the original fill material is both unstable and erosive. “If the fill slips out, you will fall 80 feet into the ocean,” she notes.
Five rare plants were discovered at the site. “We were able to spread seeds into new areas. For me, that was a real victory,” says Jones, asking that visitors respect the habitat fences protecting these delicate plants.
Oystercatchers and pelagic cormorants nest over the bluff edges. Burrowing owls, Peregrine falcons, geese, river otters, harbor seals, deer, skunks, coyotes, squirrels and even a weasel have been observed in the park.
Interpretive panels inform visitors about the park’s plants, birds, Native American history, the mill and the former dump sites. “We really want visitors to understand where they are walking,” Jones explains.
Concrete benches are expensive, so Jones asked the assistance of local artists, who created unique benches throughout the park. Several were made from wood Jones donated from her property. A mural in the still-to-be-completed Noyo Visitor Center is being installed, and another will be placed nearby, along with additional artist benches. “To inspire the imagination and provide a sense of place, we’ve merged art, nature, culture and history,” Jones explains.
Dogs must be leashed, except at South Trail’s dog park. Cyclists are welcome on the trails. Motorized vehicles for the disabled are allowed, but no mopeds or Segues. “I haven’t seen skateboarders, but roller skaters really enjoy the trail,” Jones smiles.
The South Trail’s Cemetery contains three gravestones. “As part of our Native American consultation process, we utilized ground-penetrating radar at the Cemetery. We found nine empty graves. At some point, bodies were moved to Fort Bragg’s City Cemetery, probably because settlers realized placing graves near eroding bluffs was problematic,” Jones smiles.
Fishing and abalone diving are allowed, as long as habitat fencing is not crossed.
Soon, the middle section of trail will connect downtown Fort Bragg to what will be six miles of continuous trails. This middle section is Georgia Pacific property, and trespassers will be arrested at this time. “This section still requires environmental mitigation, so for health reasons, avoid this area until it is safe,” Jones notes.
Jones thanks State Parks Proposition 84, the Coastal Conservancy, the artists, contractors, Granite Construction, Akeef Construction and Georgia Pacific for donating the Visitor Center and 53 acres to the City of Fort Bragg. “Kudos to all the City staff who worked on grants, restoration and construction, to our police and maintenance departments, and our City Council for their appreciation of the importance of this project.”
Jones has had many poignant moments on the trail. The most memorable was a gentleman wheeling his wife on a gurney to view the ocean- perhaps for the last time. “We took a contaminated, poisoned piece of land and transformed it into a cultural and environmental treasure. We did good,” Jones smiles.
The Ka Kaleh Trail is open daily between from dawn to dusk, 365 days per year. For a map of the trail visit www.fortbragg.com or contact the City of Fort Bragg at www.city.fortbragg.com