Monday, September 5, 2016


The Noyo Headlands Park:
A triumph of community

Family friends owned a little place north of Fort Bragg on Pudding Creek.  Twice or more times a year, we’d escape Chico’s summer heat by driving to the coast and hanging out with them.  We’d enjoy the sandy beach just steps from the redwood and cinderblock house.  It had a great view of the ocean and, as the sun set, a cracking fire was set in the red, funnel shaped fireplace next to which we’d drift off to sleep.  Daytime activities included that beach, and hiking north toward MacKerricher State Park, picnic loaded in a daypack or crossing the Haul Road trestle as a short cut to town, sharing that narrow bridge with frighteningly huge Georgia Pacific log trucks.  (There was a great five ‘n’ dime on Franklin Street – always a destination for a kid.)

A few hundred yards south of the bridge, an imposing gate and even more imposing signs warned our pre-teen curiosity against trespassing through the mill, a staple of the economy since the late 1800s.  We’d divert from the bluffs above Glass Beach and follow West Elm Street toward the busy main drag through town, California’s route 1.  Occasionally, before turning inland, we’d hook our fingers through the people-proof chain-link fence and wonder what the coastline looked like behind the mill.

Georgia Pacific – or whoever owned it at the time – shut down the plant about thirty years ago.  Many of the buildings fell into disrepair or were razed, and much of the equipment hauled off to be used elsewhere.  

But that fence remained, essentially cordoning off most of the coastline west of Fort Bragg’s downtown proper. 

Each of the many times I’ve cruised through Fort Bragg in those thirty-plus years, I’ve recalled my nine-year-old fingers gripping the galvanized fence wire and longing to see what was on the other side.

Now, through the collaborative efforts of the community, the Pomo Indians, the Coastal Conservancy and a host of volunteers, the hidden coastline has been lovingly opened for public exploration. 

The park has two main access points.  A wide, mostly-paved trail heads north from a parking area of Cypress Street, and south from Glass Beach at the other end of town.

That nasty, old fence, a remnant from my youth, has largely been removed. A small section of trail - perhaps only a few hundred yards - remains incomplete as volunteers work to remove some hazards left in the wake of the milling operations.

Numerous benches provide resting spots – each bench uniquely designed by an area artist and each providing a dramatic view of the coast and the nearby activity on the ocean: bobbing fishing boats momentarily lost behind swells; gulls gliding and screeching, rising and falling; migrating whales breaching…

Side trails allow one to venture out to once cloistered bluffs and down onto beaches formerly only accessed by boat. 

A redwood sheathed cabin, once located in front of the Safeway and formerly used to display the application of different cuts of wood milled by the company was purchased for a mere buck and moved to a site mid-way along the trail to serve as a modest interpretive center.  Plan on leaving a donation, because the park charges no fee.

Informational signs offer a bit of history along the way: of the landing strip that allowed the then Union Lumber Company execs to fly in from wherever; of the few buried in the cemetery over Noyo harbor…

…including, perhaps, the grave of the nefarious chap who squatted the mill on the sovereign lands – well, at least reservation lands – of the Pomo.  

Other signs tell of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the earthbound and the sea.

Strolling the cliffside trails on a warm and breezy September forenoon, I kept saying, “This is great.  This is great.”  

At the next bluff: “This is great.”  In response to a wave crashing and filling a tide pool amongst the sandstone and rocks:  “This is great!” 

My hiking colleagues that day probably thought I was addled, repeating myself so. 

But then, their childhood memories did not include nine-year-old fingers laced through a Cyclone fence wondering about what was on the other side – and wishing some day to see it.



And on the challenges in building this resource:

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press

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