Upcoming race spotlights the Coastal Rail Trail—kind of
On Aug. 25, about 200 people will run a 12 kilometer race along the ocean from Wilder Ranch State Park up through the State Parks coastal bluff trails.
But it’s where their route does not take them that is the real point.
Westside Santa Cruz resident Ron Goodman is the organizer of Run by the Sea, a community race that aims to raise awareness and money for the Coastal Rail Trail, which is slated for construction by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) in the coming years.
Goodman, a software engineer, often runs the North County coastal stretch after taking the bus with his daughter to her school, Pacific Elementary in Davenport. But Goodman’s race course goes to great lengths to stay off the county property, which he enjoyed running on until he recently discovered that he was breaking the law by doing so.
“We’re just moving all around to stay off the property,” he says. “The route goes seriously out of its way.”
Goodman is organizing Run by the Sea with the Santa Cruz County Track Club to benefit organizations that promote the Rail Trail, including Santa Cruz County Friends of the Rail Trail, People Power and State Parks.
Last year, the RTC acquired the rail line from Union Pacific with plans to open it up for transit and outdoor recreation opportunities.
The run is about celebrating the fact that the rail line has come into public ownership and the excitement over eventually having a well-maintained, paved trail, Goodman says. The path will be within the 32-mile coastal rail corridor, spanning Santa Cruz County from Davenport to Watsonville and providing the community with scenic, outdoor opportunities and promoting less reliance on cars.
Until those developments are made, however, the RTC will not allow people to use the rail line for any personal reason due to public safety issues, says Karena Pushnik, senior transportation manager for the RTC.
She says the RTC will be building the Coastal Rail Trail in sections, hopefully starting within three years, but, until improvements are made, it is off limits.
“It’s for safety and it’s an operating railroad line,” she says. “It’s not in a condition that’s safe for public access at this point in time. People are excited about public ownership of the rail line but it’s a public infrastructure area, just like the highway. Just because it’s publicly owned, you can’t go walking out there for safety reasons.”
Before Goodman’s race plan became a property obstacle course, he attempted to work out an arrangement with the RTC so participants could run along a section of county-owned road near the rail line used by farmers, but he was told no.
“The RTC came back and said, ‘Anywhere we own the land, no matter what it is, you can’t go on it,’” he says. “We countered that [by] saying they already have all these other kinds of activities happening on it, and they said they’re looking into that problem as well.”
At that point, Goodman says he felt like the liability reasoning was not all that valid. But to comply, he mapped out the run so that it stays on State Parks property.
During the planning stages, Goodman worried he would have to cancel the whole race because he could not find a way to connect two sections of the bluff trails that would keep the runners off county property, but a State Park ranger helped solve the problem.
“There’s one point where we make runners go all the way down to a beach, run across the sand, and come up on another trail,” Goodman says. “People will probably get sand in their shoes, but that’s what we’re forced to do at this point.”
The path that they will be avoiding by going down to the beach is used regularly by members of the community hiking in the area, but the detour pokes fun at the RTC’s denial of their land use, he says.
“I don’t want to paint the RTC as the bad guy,” Goodman says. “But fundamentally they’re a bureaucracy that’s most familiar with freeways and road projects, and this whole thing about recreational trails along railroads is, I think, out in left field for them. And I can respect that, because if we did have some disastrous liability issue happen there, it could threaten the future of the trail, and I don’t want to see that happen either.”
Piet Canin, a board member of Friends of the Rail Trail, says he thinks it’s important to keep people excited about the project because it’s such a long-term plan.
Currently the RTC is preparing a final copy of their Master Plan for the Coastal Rail Trail. After it is approved, construction on sections of the 20-segment rail line can commence, Canin says.
“It’s been a long time coming and people can get worn down by the duration, so we’re kind of saying, keep hope alive, and we’re going to get this done,” he says. “It’s a legacy project.”
The race—which costs $45 to participate in—has already filled up, but Goodman is working to get approval for more participants.
Visit runbythesea.org for more information.