Grant would fund path at eastern edge of Beachfront Park

The Crescent City Council has authorized its staff to seek a state parks grant to create a trail to the beach at the eastern section of Beachfront Park.

The trail project at the eastern end of Howe Drive would include a paved parking lot, staircase and an access ramp that meets Americans with Disabilities Act standards, said Community Development Director Eric Taylor.

The staff will request a $220,000 grant from the state's Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant Program to help finance the $440,000 trail project, according to Taylor. The California Coastal Conservancy last month pledged to fund 50 percent of the project's construction costs, he said.

Crescent City will contribute $20,000, according to the staff report.

The grant requires a 50 percent match, Taylor said, adding the city's application is due Feb. 3, and the state parks will announce grant winners in May.

"It will be much like Howe Park West," Taylor said.

The only safe beach access point at Beachfront Park is at Howe Drive's western end. Many visitors choose to climb over rocks to access the water on the park's east side, Taylor said.

The trail would not only create a safe access point and meet ADA requirements, but visitors would be able to carry non-motorized boating equipment such as kayaks to the water, according to the staff report. The ramp would have a slope of less than 5 percent and would not require hand rails.

If the city's grant application is successful, the project itself will be brought back to the City Council for approval, Taylor said. It would also still require an environmental review, he said. The Crescent City Planning Commission will discuss the trail project at its Thursday meeting.

The proposed trail project worries some residents who said last week they were concerned about its impact on birds that forage in the nearby Elk Creek Estuary. The estuary has the biggest and most consistent concentration of migrating shorebirds and seabirds in the harbor, said county resident Craig Strong. He said he is concerned that increased public access to the area would adversely affect wildlife at the creek.

The concentration of shorebirds at the creek's mouth also draws many birdwatchers to the area, Strong said.

"Elk Creek is an ecologically sensitive habitat area that in itself renders it inappropriate for boating access," Strong said.

Councilman Rich Enea noted any boating in connection with the trail project would involved non-motorized vessels like wind sail boards. The project is in response to many elderly and disabled individuals who have said they want better access to the beach, Enea said. He added Elk Creek may not be the best place for boating activity.

"We all know it's polluted," he said. "When birds land there they have a chance of getting very sick and dying. It's a dying creek, many people have said that over and over again. That's not where I would go if I was going to kayak."

Councilwoman Kathryn Murray said she isn't sure how polluted Elk Creek is. She said she is saddened and alarmed not to see the pelicans that have been there in previous years, but has spotted river otters in the creek before. Great blue herons and osprey also use Elk Creek, Murray said.

Murray also doubted how desirable it is to kayak or boat at the mouth of Elk Creek.

"I walk down there every day, literally, every day and I don't think the area right at the mouth of Elk Creek is where people are going to want to take their wind surf boards or their kayaks," she said. "I see a lot more activity in the big part of the bay. I've never seen a boat there unless it got washed ashore because of a storm."

The city also has plans for more interpretive signs connected with local birding, Murray said. The trail project is part of a series of new amenities planned for Beachfront Park. The city and members of the public have also been working to develop a dog park.

In other matters, the City Council approved a donation of land from Hector and Eileen Brown to the city. The donation of the roughly 15,000-square-foot parcel resolves an encroachment issue involving the neighboring Shoreline RV Park, which is owned by the city.

Without the donation, the number of RV sites would drop from 89 to 83, according to the city's staff report. The Browns own the nearby Ocean View Inn.

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