Sections of the Bay Trail closed due to construction were set to reopen Monday, according to the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority. Another trail, the Faber-Laumeister, which was torn up during native planting to provide habitat for endangered species, will be smoothed out as well.
The trail sections, which lead to and from the Friendship Bridge that borders East Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Golf Course, were closed due to construction that is part of the flood protection work on the lower part of the San Francisquito Creek east of U.S. Highway 101.
Users had expected to re-enter the trails on Feb. 3, when construction was to end temporarily during the nesting season for the Ridgway's rail, an endangered bird species that lives in the marshes. But days before the opening, the JPA announced the trail would remain closed through Dec. 28, angering many bicycle commuters who use the trail to get to and from work. JPA officials said the extended closure was due to the contractor's concern about technical and safety liability issues.
Concern was compounded after the Faber-Laumeister trail, a dirt track that traverses the top of a berm over the marshes at the intersection of the Bay Trail and Runnymede Street, became inaccessible after it was dug up to accommodate the native plants, which are required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as mitigation for the flood work. Trail users said it was impassable and had limited access for East Palo Alto residents to already limited open space options.
But on Monday, hard work to negotiate a solution resulted in approving the trails' reopening, said Gary Kremen, board chair of the JPA and Santa Clara Valley Water District. The effort was led by Kremen, Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Scharff, JPA Executive Director Len Materman and Water District and city staff.
"Opening the trail involved a mind numbing amount of cutting thru red tape, legal complexity and negotiations with the parties," Scharff said in a posting on the Palo Alto Weekly's Town Square discussion forum.
In an email to JPA board members, Materman said the negotiations with the contractor succeeded at the end of last week. The Friendship Bridge and trails are to reopen by the end of the day Monday and will remain open until at least early May. East Palo Alto staff cleaned the trails last week and Palo Alto staff will maintain them while they are opened.
"This relatively small issue required an interagency approach by two cities, the SCVWD and JPA," he said.
Scharff noted on Town Square that the trails would close again sometime after May 1 when the contractors return to complete their job. The trails would reopen permanently around Jan. 1.
Kevin Murray, JPA senior project manager, said in an email to concerned residents that crews will be working on Tuesday to smooth the footpath on the Faber-Laumeister trail.
"This work is being done to restore a safe pathway for hikers to follow from the Bay Trail out to S.F. Bay, similar to what existed before the restoration plantings were installed along the berm," he said.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the area, is asking for community members to remember that this trail is off limits to bicyclists since it not a managed trail with a maintained surface. The trail is also off limits to pets, since the footpath traverses a National Wildlife Refuge that is home to federal and state protected species, he noted.
Workers will be watering the recently installed restoration plantings on Tuesday.
"It's important that these plantings enjoy a high success rate both to ensure their value as habitat for protected species in the area and to allow for the continued open access of the Faber/Laumeister foot path to hikers," Murray said.
Materman added a third piece of welcome news in an email to the JPA board. Caltrans has indicated to the JPA that East Bayshore Road will be restriped late next week, meaning the project to replace the bridge under U.S. Highway 101 on the East Bayshore side is done.
"If true, this is important because this route is the alternative route when the Friendship Bridge is closed," he said.
A community meeting to discuss the trails issues related to the JPA flood-control project with Materman, Santa Clara Valley Water District and city of East Palo Alto staff will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 13, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto YMCA, 550 Bell St., East Palo Alto.