By JANET ZIMMERMAN
Design and partial construction of the most complicated section of the Santa Ana River Trail and Parkway — a 25-mile gap from Norco past Prado Dam — can proceed with $5.2 million in grants from the state, officials said Monday.
The 100-mile recreational trail from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean has been in the works more than 50 years. All but three miles of trail through Orange County are complete, but work remains on the Riverside County stretch and 14 miles in San Bernardino County.
“This mountain-to-the-sea trail might be finished in my lifetime where I can actually enjoy it,” said Chris Van Matre, a Riverside Bicycle Club member and frequent trail user. “I can’t tell you how excited I am by that.”
As it is, she and other riders must use city streets in Norco and Corona. The paved trail picks up just over the Orange County line.
“It’s going to be a lot safer” for recreational trail users and bicyclists who commute to work between Riverside and Orange County, she said.
The grant awarded Thursday by the California Coastal Conservancy will be used for trail design, construction drawings and some of the work that will begin next year, said Patricia Lock-Dawson, a consultant for the trail Policy Advisory Committee, made up of 14 cities, counties, a land conservancy group and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.
The work covers 22 miles in western Riverside County and three miles in Orange County west of Green River Road. The project is expected to be completed by 2015.
“It’s been the Holy Grail of this whole effort. It’s a horrendously complicated section, through Prado Basin, over the dam, under the 71 freeway and through some beautiful, undisturbed riparian habitats,” Lock-Dawson said.
That section of trail, known as the “pinch point,” is the last to be developed for several reasons, including the complex physical borders and the number of agencies that have jurisdiction over the land, she said. Officials have dealt with the raising of Prado Dam for flood protection, the changing course of the river over the last several years, railroad tracks and endangered birds living along the shores.
In 2006, the trail advisory committee was formed to secure funding and push through completion. The latest development “shows the importance of partnerships … and the continued need for investment for recreational infrastructure,” said Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, whose district includes the area.
Also in 2006, California voters approved Prop. 84, the bond act funding the trail improvements.
The trail will give children safe access to the outdoors, said David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, a group that funds land preservation throughout California.
His group donated $3 million in private money for completion of the trail, which will connect to the San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests, state parks and dozens of city and county parks where people can fish and swim, he said.
“It’s a key to nature for inner-city kids,” Myers said. “It reminds me a lot of the way so many of us grew up as kids. We went down to waterways and caught frogs and crayfish and spent the summer in short pants with our shirts off. Hopefully it will mean the same to kids for generations to come.”
Reach Janet Zimmerman at 951-368-9586 or jzimmerman@PE.com