Albion Monitor /Features

The Thousand Mile Summer

Fostering public awareness that the coast is a tremendously valuable and fragile resource

Twelve hikers lined up at the Oregon border June 1 and took the first steps of an 1,100-mile coastline hike, planning to complete their journey at the Mexican border on September 20. The event is organized by Coastwalk, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the California coast.

The marathon hike aims to call attention to the value of the coastline and also inspire completion of a California Coastal Trail from Oregon to Mexico. Much of the Coastal Trail already exists as separate trails through state and county parks and other public land, and Coastwalk hopes to increase awareness of the trail as a whole while encouraging counties to create links between existing stretches of trail.

"The whole idea of the trail has to do with fostering public awareness that the coast is a tremendously valuable and fragile resource," says Richard Nichols of Sebastopol, Coastwalk's statewide coordinator.

Coastwalk does little that's directly political, instead offering hikes designed to be fun and educational

Coastwalk has been conducting coastal hikes since 1983, starting with a seven-day walk along the Sonoma County shoreline, an event designed to test where there was coastal access and where there wasn't. The organization gradually expanded until today there are annual summer Coastwalks in all 15 of California's coastal counties.

Two years ago the organization began planning a one-time border-to-border hike of the whole coast, assembling a team of sturdier-than-usual hikers for the marathon effort. The logistics of a 16-week event are formidable, and Coastwalk, a volunteer organization, was on shaky financial ground until Ford Motor Company stepped in with a $36,800 grant, some of which went for gear vehicles.

"There are no strings attached," says Nichols. " They did it because they want to connect with the good guys." Nichols is one of the dozen hikers who laced up their boots and headed south on the first of June. The trip also included two drivers to shuttle equipment from one campsite to the next.

"We all know the problems with cars but I couldn't be a hiker without a car," says Nichols, who left for the hike wearing a Coastwalk T-shirt and a Ford baseball cap. "The only reason why 30 million people like to go to the coast is because they can get there."

Unlike some environmental groups, Coastwalk does little that's directly political. Instead, the organization puts on hikes designed to be fun and educational. But there is an underlying connection between Coastwalk and more activist groups.

"We get people out on the coast, and naturally they fall in love with it," says Simone Wilson, a former Coastwalk board member. "Once they've formed that intimate connection with the landscape, they work to preserve it, sometimes by joining other organizations."

A more specific goal, explains Nichols, is promotion of the California Coastal Trail. Creation of the continuous trail was a stated goal of the California Coastal Act of l972. The Act also established the California Coastal Commission to protect the coast and regulate the amount of private development.

Coastwalk also hopes to call attention to the work of the California Parks and Recreation Department, which maintains over 40 parks on the coast. State Parks has been struggling to maintain the quality of its parks despite shrinking resources that have caused cutbacks and staff and budgets. "It's a great system -- I'm really impressed with it," says Nichols. Don Murphy, Director of State Parks, hiked along with the border-to-border group for the first week.

Coastwalks in all 15 coastal counties continue through August

Participants in this summer's hike range in age from 20 to 68 and are mostly from California, with one Oregonian who has already hiked the shorter Oregon coastline.

The hikers reached Mendocino County June 19 and will arrive in Sonoma County at the end of June. Coastwalk is hosting a talk and informational slide show as the hikers pass through each county. The Sonoma gathering will be at the Bodega Bay Grange on July 6, and the the Marin slide show will be at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station July 8. Coastwalk will hold a press conference at San Francisco's Cliff House July 16, and another one Sept. 4 when the hikers reach Los Angeles County.

Coastwalks in all 15 coastal counties of Cailfornia continue through August. Some remaining counties still have space. For information call Coastwalk at (707) 829-6689.

Del NorteJune 23-29
Lost Coast BackpackJune 22-30
MontereyJune 24-30
MendocinoJuly 7-12
Santa CruzJuly 11-14
San DiegoJuly 12-16 and July 18-21
MarinJuly 22-28
Orange (including trip to Catalina Island)July 22-26
Los AngelesJuly 30-Aug. 5
San Francisco (including 2 days on Angel Island)July 29-Aug. 3
VenturaAug. 4-10
San MateoAug. 6-10
San Luis ObispoAug. 11-17
Santa Barbara (including trip to Channel Islands)Aug. 18-24

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Albion Monitor June, 1996 (

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