Thursday, December 15, 2011
Strolling Carmel Valley’s new South Bank Trail on a sunny autumn morning, Eileen Cross recognizes the runner who bounds past with Zen-like focus. “I see her every time,” Cross says. But she’s surprised not to spot an elderly couple who usually graces the trail this time of day.
The man, who uses a cane, seems to take a particular delight in this gentle riverside walk, Cross says. His wife accompanies him with her pruning shears, doing freestyle trail maintenance.
Cross says she approached them once, introducing herself as the Big Sur Land Trust project manager who oversaw the South Bank Trail’s construction. Her voice takes on an earnest quality as she re-enacts the man’s response. “‘You built this trail? You all are going to heaven. This trail is a gift from God.’”
The 1.5-mile South Bank, which opened to the public in October, is about as mellow as it gets. Paved and flat, it’s a Class I bicycle path, accessible to wheelchairs, tricycles and strollers. Leashed dogs are welcome; horses aren’t.
Already, the South Bank has a loyal following who regularly fills up the six-car gravel parking lot on Rancho San Carlos Road. Cross says the trail is especially popular among parents and children, runners with the Carmel Valley Athletic Club and residents of the Hacienda Carmel senior community.
Wedged between Quail Lodge and Palo Corona Regional Park, The South Bank is part of BSLT’s “Experience Carmel River” vision, a collaboration with private landowners and public agencies to create a network of trails, educational sites and restored natural spaces along the river from Hatton Canyon to Carmel Valley Village.
Cross leads the way to the trailhead from the South Bank parking lot, along the edge of a field where a few stately herons stand tall like royalty among foraging Canada geese. The South Bank begins on a private farm road across from Valley Greens Drive, marked by an entrance framed with Carmel stone (donated by the Santa Lucia Conservancy) and an interpretive panel designed by Leslie Stone Associates.
About a half mile in, the path leans right at a fork in the road and changes from black to dusty yellow. The Carmel River, wet and slow, opens up to the north; toasted autumn leaves pop against the muted Carmel Valley hills.
The trail’s color change marks the beginning of BSLT’s construction project. The material underfoot is GraniteCrete, an eco-friendly concrete alternative invented by Carmel Valley landscape contractor Geoff Smith in the ’90s. The decomposed granite is mined in Hollister and bound with an organic material, making it porous to rain.
It took Enz Construction about 40 tons of product to create the GraniteCrete path to the Palo Corona border, Smith says. Much of the segment is bordered on both sides by a wood-post fence, with Rancho Cañada Golf Club’s greens on the north side, and private pastureland on the south. The effect is enchanting.
“Over the holiday the whole family walked on it, which was kinda neat,” Smith says. “I’m pleased with it.”
The California Resources Agency River Parkways Program funded the path’s construction, and the county won a grant for its design and permitting. Quail Meadows donated the easement to the farm road at the trail’s beginning, and Jeff and Paula Taylor sold BSLT an easement to the path through pastureland. (Jeff has repeatedly challenged Rep. Sam Farr for his Congressional seat.)
The land trust landscaped the yellow GraniteCrete path with native plants, and added sand bags where erosion has already started etching into the shoulder. BSLT has tapped Carmel High students to plant 108 native willow, sycamore, and cottonwood trees.
The South Bank ends at the edge of Palo Corona Regional Park, where BSLT and the Regional Parks District built four miles of trails that opened last May. If Palo Corona is the Emerald City, with more than 4,300 rugged acres to get lost in, the South Bank Trail is the yellow brick road leading there. Bikes aren’t allowed in Palo Corona (hence the rack), and the number of hikers is limited to protect the habitat. For a permit, visit www.mprpd.org or call 372-3196.
But for the slow-moving seniors and power-walking parents Cross passes on her morning walk, the South Bank is the destination itself. A call to Hacienda Carmel sought to locate the elderly couple Cross was missing. A staff person responded with news of loss: The man had recently passed on.
But in the sunny South Bank Trail, Carmel Valley remains blessed with a piece of his heaven.
The South Bank Trail begins on Rancho San Carlos Road at Valley Greens Drive. Visit bit.ly/sbanktrail for maps.