By Jessica Cejnar – The Willits News
Two state grants totaling more than $2 million are allowing Arcata to expand Sunny Brae Forest, protecting the headwaters of Jacoby Creek, Gannon Slough and Beith Creek from potential development, according to city environmental officials.
The California Wildlife Conservation Board awarded Arcata about $1.95 million Tuesday that will be used toward the purchase price of a 114 acre piece of land known as the Morris Property, said Mark Andre, Arcata’s director of environmental services. Another grant of $350,000 from the California Department of Transportation will also be used to purchase the Morris Property. The property is currently owned by Bob and Carol Morris.
The city is also in the process of applying for state funding to purchase another 22 acres immediately adjacent to the Morris Property owned by George and Mary Schmidbauer, Andre said. The city hopes to receive that funding in November.
The Morris Property is currently zoned residential, Andre said. By purchasing the land rather than seeing it be used for houses and estates in the future, the city will maintain the forest habitat in perpetuity, he said.
”We’ll grow this forest and do necessary restoration there, and it’ll be accessible to the public at some point,” Andre said, adding that a portion of the Arcata Ridge Trail runs through that property. “We’re also grateful and thankful to Bob and Carol Morris for working with the city on this.”
Acquiring the original 175 acres that made up the Sunny Brae Forest started back in 2000 when residents in the area were concerned about plans to log that area, said 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who lives in Sunny Brae. Even though the community wasn’t opposed to logging, residents were worried about noise issues, hours of operations and log trucks traveling up and down Buttermilk Lane. When the owners of that property decided to sell the land to Arcata, the Sunny Brae-Arcata Neighborhood Alliance helped raise $100,000 toward the purchase, Lovelace said.
When the group began working with Arcata to purchase the original Sunny Brae Forest property, Lovelace said, its members were also interested in some of the other parcels, including the Morris Property. According to him, the group felt that adding those properties to Sunny Brae Forest would connect it well to the Arcata Community Forest so hikers could travel from one end to the other.
”The Morris property is a real key to making the Sunny Brae Forest much more manageable,” Lovelace said, adding that it’s the city’s largest forest acquisition on the southern side of Fickle Hill Road. “It’s been really neat that a vision of joining it to the Arcata Community Forest is moving ahead at such a great pace.”
Developing a trail system for the Sunny Brae Forest, which is currently 200 acres, is challenging, Andre said. There is a lot of demand for mountain bike, hiking and equestrian trails. Acquiring the Morris and Schmidbauer properties will provide a connection to Fickle Hill Road and also help create a loop system for its trails, he said.
Purchasing the Morris Property will also allow Arcata to gain control of the headwaters of Jacoby Creek, Gannon Slough and Beith Creek, all of which drain into Humboldt Bay, Andre said. Jacoby Creek flows through a 600-acre parcel of land the city is restoring as part of its Baylands project just before it drains into the bay. Maintaining the headwaters in a forested condition will contribute to habitat protection and flood control downstream as well as improve watershed and water quality values and create a highly productive working forest land, he said.
The Arcata Community Forest is currently 2,200 acres. Andre said that in addition to working to acquire the Morris and Schmidbauer properties, the city is working to conclude an acquisition from Green Diamond Resource Co. at the north end of the Arcata Ridge Trail. The city is also working on purchasing a 2-acre piece of property adjacent to the Sunny Brae Forest, he said.
Andre also added that Trish Strickland with the Trust for Public Land has been assisting the city. “They have done an extraordinary amount of work to help these projects come to fruition,” he said.
Strickland was not available for comment.
Arcata’s grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board is part of $43.6 million that the board earmarked to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. The funds are being used for 19 projects including Arcata’s. The wildlife conservation board also awarded a grant to Ducks Unlimited Inc. for wetland restoration to the Salt River Unit of the Eel River Wildlife Area.