The Willits Rail Trail was discussed at a community meeting on March 10, held via Zoom. The Willits Rail Trail is a 1.6 mile Class 1 segregated cycle and pedestrian path that will be built on the rail corridor.
The City of Willits secured a $6 million grant in 2019 for the project. The design and implementation of the trail is currently underway. When complete, the trail will be part of the statewide effort to build the Great Redwood Trail.
Town of Willits Community Development Manager Dusty Duley provided background on the project, which dates back to the 1990s. He said, “I just want to acknowledge the past 20 years of effort from the community, (municipal) council and staff to get there.”
John Gibbs of WRT explained the importance of community input throughout the design and implementation process. He said: “We want this place to be active, we want it to be safe, we want it to be loved.”
Gibbs described the project’s objectives as: improving non-motorized mobility and accessibility along the corridor, preserving the transportation system around the city (including the rail component), public safety, and ensuring that the trail is actively used.
Lights and benches will be added to the pathway, which will stretch from Commercial Street to East Hill Road. Gibbs explained: “Connecting the city center to the south of the city – Baechtel Road, the hospital etc. – … it really offers excellent connectivity throughout the valley.”
The project design team is led by civil engineering firm GHD. GHD Project Manager Matt Regula explained that the corridor is limited in the northern section, and less as it moves south. He explained that they would coordinate with the Skunk Train and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad to implement the project.
The trail will be built next to the current rail as it is still in use. A Class 1 trail is defined as a 10 foot wide paved path with 2 foot wide shoulders. There is a required offset distance from the operational rail, and a fence between the trail and the rail is also required. ADA compliance is the goal.
The project has been initiated and GHD is preparing the environmental document. Construction is expected to begin in late 2023 or early 2024.
Gibbs explained that the shoulders will remain unpaved, providing a softer surface for runners, while the main trail will be asphalt, providing a good surface for those on wheels. Shade trees will be part of the design, along with clear signs indicating where the trail is.
Gibbs stressed that safety and public safety are paramount. He said the project team and the city are excited to work with the Willits Police Department and trail users to make this happen.
During the question and answer period, Madge Strong, a member of the city council, pointed out that lighting will be expensive. The project team is aware and expects that the budget will be limited, even with grant funding, given the scale of the project.
City Council Member Jerry Gonzalez asked about the budget for future maintenance. Duley said staff discussed it and tried to anticipate maintenance costs.
It was pointed out that the new California Conservation Corps center will open around the same time near Adventist Health Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits. Corps members may be able to help with trail maintenance.
Connection points were discussed and potential connection points proposed were the Willits Senior Center, the Main Street Business Corridor and some neighborhoods.