Covering Ground with the Great Shasta Rail Trail
By Laura Christman
Photos courtesy of the Great Shsata Rail Trail Association
Creating an 80-mile trail is a long-distance dream. Pulling it off requires effort and a steady pace.
The Great Shasta Rail Trail still has miles to go, but the ambitious project to connect Burney and McCloud via a multi-use pathway is coming into play. Two sections totaling 37 miles opened a year ago. Hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders can hit the packed-cinder path east of McCloud from Esperanza to Hambone and from Burney to Lake Britton.
“Word is getting out. It is a lovely place to ride your bike or hike away from traffic,” says April Gray, president of the Great Shasta Rail Trail Association. “It’s a beautiful trail through the woods and meadows.”
The aim is a woodsy recreation opportunity serving locals and bringing visitors to the North State. The route has views of Mt. Shasta and connects to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and the Pacific Crest Trail. The plan is a trail following the line of the former McCloud River Railway, started by McCloud River Lumber Company in 1896 to haul logs and lumber. Operation of the line ceased in 2006.
Remnants of logging camps and wagon roads plus a historic water tank are along the route. A trestle 78 feet above Lake Britton is called the Stand by Me Bridge for its moment of fame in the 1986 movie based on a Stephen King novella (the “Stand by Me” scene of four boys trying to outrun a train is posted at www.greatshastarailtrail.org). The trestle will be a highlight of the trail, but it isn’t ready yet.
“It’s blocked off. It is definitely not safe for pedestrian use,” Gray says.
Rebuilding and repairing trestles, bridges and culverts are some of the bigger challenges ahead, Gray says. “We are really focused right now on trying to open more of the trail. We’re focusing on some of the smaller bridges.”
Other work down the line includes developing trailheads and interpretive signs. The entire trail could be open within 10 years, according to Gray. Developing a trail that stretches 80 miles is difficult, but there are advantages to using a railroad route.
“What is really lovely about a rail trail is we don’t have to go and plot out where the trail is going to be,” Gray says. “We don’t have to build the base. That allows you, once you get the land, to jump right in.”
Levelness is a plus, too, she adds. “Railroads tend to be no more than a 3-percent grade. That makes it real easy on the legs.”
The trail is open to hikers, runners, bicyclists, horseback riders, cross-country skiers and snowshoers. It’s for exploration and fitness, as well as being a transportation option – away from traffic – for bike riders. And it should boost local economies.
“It’s a really exciting project for a lot of reasons – partly because it touches on so many benefits,” says Ben Miles, one of the early trail advocates. Miles, who lives in Danville, Ky., is former director of Shasta Land Trust in Redding and remains on the Great Shasta Rail Trail Association board.
The trail’s beginnings go back to 2005 when Burney resident Joe Studenicka of Save Burney Falls saw potential for a trail after the railroad filed paperwork to abandon part of its line. Save Burney Falls submitted the initial trail development request.
Federal law allows for rail corridors to become trails through a process called “railbanking” that preserves an option of future rail use rather than complete abandonment. Trail proponents negotiate with the railroad to buy the property and for easements and other agreements.
A core coalition of organizations has been behind the push for the Great Shasta Rail Trail: Save Burney Falls, McCloud Local First Network, Shasta Land Trust, Volcanic Legacy Community Partnership, McCloud Trail Association and Fall River Mills Chamber of Commerce. Many other organizations and agencies have helped.
Most funding is from grants. Shasta Land Trust used a $350,000 state Department of Transportation grant to purchase the railroad land in 2012. Another key grant was $184,230 from the National Scenic Byways program for engineering studies.
The Great Shasta Rail Trail Association formed in 2013 to be the nonprofit holding title of the property and maintaining the trail.