The tracks that run west out of town lead to somewhere. They lead to New Leaf, Westside Farmer’s Market, Antonelli Pond, Natural Bridges, Seymour Discovery Center, Wilder Ranch, and many great beaches beyond.Unfortunately, for decades this small stretch of track from Almar to Swift lead to nowhere for many, and was a no go zone for the rest of us.
It was un-managed and overgrown with invasive plants.
Speak with the locals that have lived or worked by this section for years and they all tell a consistent story. Drugs, drugs, drugs – it was called Heroine Highway.
One business owner, who has worked along the tracks for 15 years, talks about how the stench of feces used to be overpowering. Disgusting and dangerous fill every sentence. Dead bodies, mattresses, trash, people yelling all night long.
In 2009 a group of concerned citizens came together to make a difference. Take Back Santa Cruz was in their infancy and this was one of their original clean ups.
There is a lot to fix in this city. Pollution is a symptom of a larger problem. And TBSC energy is spread across many domains.
For this little section of track as the weeds grew back the bad behavior returned.
There almost seems to be a measurable correlation between the height of weeds and frequency and severity of poor behavior (wonder what that equation looks like).
Watching the space fall back into despair I started thinking of what could be a permanent fix. The most desired solution would be a formal bike path (similar to the Bethany Curve Path). Thousands of miles of tracks around the country have been turned into bike trails. This section is a prime candidate. I am a full supporter of the Rails to Trails. My home town of Redmond, Washington did the same thing 20 years ago. But for some reason it looks to be years away for Santa Cruz.
One section of the tracks that has remained open, safe and usable is behind Kelly’s French Bakery. They laid down a bunch of mulch that seems to be keeping the weeds down. Without weeds it’s a family friendly space for people to park and walk their dogs. Maybe that’s why the inaugural train ride celebrating the purchase of the tracks started there.
During the winter, on a cold misty day, I walked the tracks with David Terrazas and Pamela Comstock. We talked about the need to cut the overgrowth back down and how it would be nice if all is was all as open and safe as it was behind Kelly’s.
Late 2012 I personally cleaned the tracks and David T. got the city to fund a cut down.
With the overgrowth gone – the demographics of who uses this space and the corresponding behaviors changes dramatically. It goes from single white men congregating, drinking, doing drugs, and polluting – to single women, kids, and families riding their bikes, walking their dogs, and using it as a safe shortcut to New Leaf and Kelly’s French Bakery.
As the life giving forces of spring came the invasive weeds took full advantage and started growing back. And just like it was part of nature (which it probably is) the bad behavior returned.
Again David T. and I rallied. Wanting to move towards a more permanent fix we are trying to replicate the Kelly’s French Bakery success to the whole section (Almar to Swift). David T. funneled our requests for weed whacking and mulch through the appropriate city channels.
Then we put out calls for help. Take Back Santa Cruz, along with Garfield Neighbors, responded with conviction. About 20 people showed up with wheel barrows, pitchforks, trucks, and weed whackers. Special thanks to the four city council members who put in hours of labor (Hilary Bryant, Lynn Robinson, Pamela Comstock, and David Terrazas).
Until this track has a more permanent bike trail (worthy of it as a fantastic resource for the families of Santa Cruz)… mulch seems to be the option we have. And let me tell you it takes a lot of mulch. Stay tuned because we need more spreading.
We have learned a few things along the way. Amount of mulch required, how to distribute it more efficiently, and the amount of labor hours required. That cleaning is very temporary. That TBSC has an important voice that is heard. And we have a city, and leaders, who listen and are willing to help us make our city a better place.
With great appreciation… thank you!