Cleanup along railroad tracks complete -- one step closer to rail and trail near Loleta

Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

Thirty tons of garbage has been removed from a section of the railroad tracks between Loleta and Fernbridge and a more scenic outdoor hiking opportunity has been created. Donations from local businesses kept the out of pocket expenditures for the cleanup to about half of what is the total cost, or about $9,000.

"We have completed the first stage on our end," said Wally Coppini, one of the main forces behind the project. "The public can now enjoy a completely safe and very nice walk along the tracks," he said.

Right now the money for this cleanup is coming from Loleta's Swauger Station Day Community Improvement Account and from funds raised by the Tour of Loleta bicycle ride, held in conjunction with Swauger Station Day each July.

Coppini said he is gratified to see progress on a larger and long-term project that has been discussed for the past several years; a rail and trail project stretching from Loleta to Fortuna and eventually beyond. "Looking long term," he said, "maybe someday we'll have a connection from Eureka to the redwoods."

The city of Fortuna and Fortuna Chamber of Commerce are joining in to further the rail and trail concept and there is talk about possibly having speeder car rides associated with Apple Harvest Festival in Fortuna in October. "The plan is to have the tracks cleared from Clendenen's (Cider Works) to 8th Street, where the (railroad) depot was long ago," said Rod Allen Vice-Chair of the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce. He added that both the chamber and the city of Fortuna are in favor of getting the railroad tracks cleared for hikers, longer speeder rides, and ... for an excursion train someday. There is some clearing of brush taking place along the tracks at the northern end of the Friendly City.

The Timber Heritage Association is also very much a part of this project. Coppini said his group is exploring funding options, including applying for grant money to continue with the project. The distance from Loleta to Fernbridge along the railroad tracks is almost six miles. The estimated cost of preparation and trail paving is approximately $90,000 per mile. Eventually the group would like to see passenger excursion service on the rail line and have a paved accessible trail alongside, "much like the Hammond Trail," Coppini said.

Since the railroad tracks have not been used for about 15 years, there is a lot of trees and brush being cleared. Crews from the High Rock Conservation Camp near Weott and the California Conservation Corps have put in many long hours of work to do just that. "We couldn't have done it without them," Loleta Chamber of Commerce President Janice Simmons said.

What the group does need now are volunteers who can continue with brush removal and help remove the downed and cut up wood along the tracks, of which it is estimated to be five cords of alder, willow, and pine lying on the ground. To volunteer, call Coppini at 498-6348 or Simmons at 496-4741.

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

More than 30 tons of garbage including tires, large appliances and a car chassis were removed from this area just off Eel River Drive, between Loleta and Fernbridge.