For over 100 years, when you visited Fort Bragg, California, you gazed wistfully westward, knowing the Pacific Ocean was somewhere beyond the fences and barriers that defined the borders of the Georgia-Pacific Mill site. You could only access the coast in a few places within the Fort Bragg city limits, mainly at Glass Beach, or at the Noyo Harbor beach, unless you were hearty enough to rent a kayak and paddle to a hidden ocean cove.
Now, the remarkable beauty of the Pacific Coast is open for your viewing pleasure, easily accessible from downtown Fort Bragg! In January, 2010, the California Coastal Conservancy officially purchased 92 of the former 430-acre Georgia-Pacific Mill site, which closed in 2002. The purchase included 3.5 miles of coastline, which will become part of the planned 1,200-mile California Coastal Trail. Turning the former mill site into pristine coastal property has involved an extensive cleanup and removal of the last buildings blocking ocean views from downtown. Fort Bragg’s accessible coastline will now rival places like Monterey and Santa Cruz for ocean access, as former Mayor Doug Hammerstrom said in 2010. Eventually, when the entire project is completed, visitors and residents will be able to hike and bike on the entire length of the Fort Bragg Coastal Trail; and horseback riding is also available by driving just north of Fort Bragg to Cleone, to the Ricochet Ridge Ranch. One of their riding trail options includes riding into MacKerricher State Park, and on to the beach.
In 2015, there was a “Soft Opening” of one section of the Coastal Trail; and by 2017, the south and north portions of the trail will be joined, once the cleanup is completed. The City of Fort Bragg celebrated the opening of the Noyo Headlands Park and the Coastal Trail (Phase 1), reopening access to Glass Beach after several months of limited use. The new trail is accessible from the parking area at the end of Elm Street, and is available for walking, skating, biking and on-leash pets.
You can walk all the way from the Pudding Creek trestle bridge to Otsuchi Point, overlooking Soldier Bay. Habitat restoration is still being completed on the sensitive bluff tops, so visitors should remain on the paved sections of the trail until otherwise indicated. You can read about the beautiful story of Otsuchi Point, and how this city in Northeastern Japan became Fort Bragg’s Sister City, even though it was sadly destroyed five years ago, and is being rebuilt — March 11th, 2016 marked the 5th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
The Coastal Trail also provides access to the northernmost coves of the Glass Beach complex, previously only accessible via kayak or at very low tides. Visitors are cautioned to remain on the trail, and to navigate the beach steps carefully. Additional safety features, such as handrails, are being installed. You’ll also find beautiful, hand-crafted benches by local artists and woodworkers at various points along the trail. Recently, there was a Call for Artists to propose new public artworks and benches adjacent to the Coastal Trail. In the coming year, you’ll be able to see some of these works, as they are developed and installed.
Visitors can also enjoy the new interpretive panels that tell the history of the mill site and of Fort Bragg’s logging past. The mill site owners still retain a large portion of the land east of the trail, which is undergoing environmental remediation required prior to sale or development. Visitors are reminded to not trespass or enter the few fenced-in areas that remain.
There have been special guided walks on the Coastal Trail — and we anticipate more special hikes and events to be held on the trail property in the future. A project that has captured the imaginations of local residents and visitors alike, is the proposed Noyo Center for Marine Science, which, when completed, will be located on land adjacent to the Coastal Trail. Even though the Noyo Center organization is still raising funds to build the actual Center, they frequently hold events showcasing a massive blue whale skeleton and other specimens from their collection, and they hold science talks and other events. Recently, visitors attended several events during the March, 2016 Fort Bragg Whale Festival. In the late Fall, you can spot whales swimming south to give birth in warmer water; and in February-March, they return to the ocean off of the Northern California Coast every year, so it is an extra special treat to now be able to view them from various points along the Coastal Trail.
You can watch a short video tour of the new Coastal Trail, courtesy of Mendocino TV. Plans continue for Phase II of the project, which will link Phase I with the Pomo Bluffs access and park at the south end of Fort Bragg.
To learn more about the Coastal Trail project, it is helpful to read the Coastal Trail Brochure and Map.
Will you join us to celebrate Spring and Summer on the Coastal Trail? Are you ready to be awakened to the splendor of the Pacific Ocean?
We hope you’ll come join us at the Grand Opening on June 4th! Watch this blog for updates about this very special event.
(Note: Some of the photos above are courtesy of KOZT — The Coast Radio, and the City of Fort Bragg.)