Bay Area’s ‘Appalachian Trail’ nears milestone

On Behalf of | Aug 10, 2021 | Bicycling |

Three decades after work began, the Bay Area Ridge Trail project closes in on a significant achievement. The Ridge Trail Council says it expects to have 400 of the 550-mile multi-use trail completed by the end of 2021.

In late July, the council’s announcement that the Ridge Trail nears 70% completion represents a significant step in the 30-year-old project, envisioned by William Penn Mott, Jr., to provide a continuous trail surrounding the Bay Area for parks, people and open space.

Work in 2021 focuses on Santa Clara and Napa counties

The nonprofit Ridge Trail Council was formed in 1989 to build long-term cycling, hiking and horse-riding trails in the hills surrounding the Bay Area. Volunteers and other stakeholders from all nine area counties joined this close partnership to make it happen.

Roughly 393 miles of the trail are completed and open for public use. In a good year, about 10 miles are built. The goal for the rest of 2021 is constructing a 3.5-mile stretch at El Sereno Open Space Preserve in Santa Clara County and 3.7 miles from Pacific Union College to Moore Creek Park in Napa County.

The Ridge Trail Council looks to complete the loop

More than 90% of the trail utilizes parks, preserves and other public lands where approvals were relatively easy. Of the 150 remaining miles, nearly half has to go through private lands. Council members acknowledge some of these negotiations will be tricky, not to mention expensive.

Even the best-case estimate suggests it’ll take another 20 years to complete the trail. However, the trail council has already successfully coordinated with dozens of land management groups, private property owners and local governments.

Establishing a “world-class” wilderness trail

Mott, who served as California’s Park Service Director from 1967 to 1985, proposed the idea for the trail in the 1980s, calling it a “super park system,” crisscrossing the Bay Area linking the region through footpaths extended to the Sierra crest.

Once completed, the trail council believes it will be regarded as a world-renowned circuit, rivaling the Appalachian and Pacific Crest wilderness trails. The hope is it will attract backpackers, cyclists and equestrians for generations to come and provide a much-needed natural space for the Bay Area’s 8 million residents.