Water Trail Implementation - First Report


The Water Trail Steering Committee will address trail implementation in meeting six (February 14, 2007). The purposes of the meeting are to get the Committee’s input on an organizational model for the trail, and to discuss and find areas of agreement on a process for designating, or including, sites on the water trail.

Because it has been over four months since the last meeting of the Committee, the following staff report begins with an overview of planning progress and the next steps to help participants understand the planning process. The report also describes an organizational structure for the water trail implementation that was developed in two workshops held in January 2007. The Committee will have opportunities to provide feedback on this structure in the February 14th meeting. The last section of the report is background for the Committee’s discussion on how to include launch sites in the water trail.

Review of Planning Progress and Next Steps

The Water Trail Steering Committee has met five times since February 2006 to discuss and provide input on trail planning issues.

  • Meeting 1 (February): Issue identification and draft vision statement;
  • Meeting 2 (April): Access issues and trail head improvements and management;
  • Meeting 3 (June): Wildlife, habitat and water quality;
  • Meeting 4 (July): Principles and strategies to address access issues, trail head improvements, and wildlife, habitat and water quality; and
  • Meeting 5 (October): Safety and education.

Also during this time, project staff led focused workshops on disturbance of rafting birds, launch site design, and implementation roles and responsibilities and organizational structure of the trail. At meeting six on February 14, 2007, the Committee will discuss the trail implementation topics that are introduced in this background report. A seventh and final meeting in March will give the Committee the opportunity to wrap up its implementation discussion, review outcomes of the previous meetings and revisit the vision statement. Project staff will integrate the information and guidance from these meetings and workshops into the Water Trail Plan. A draft of this plan will be completed and made available in May.

The staff does not plan to convene the Committee for additional meetings beyond March, however the Committee will continue to be involved in the plan development. In preparing the plan, project staff will work and consult with Steering Committee members and issue experts individually. Furthermore, Committee members and other interested parties will have opportunities to provide feedback on the draft plan.

The project staff plans to present the revised Water Trail Plan to the BCDC Commission and the California Coastal Conservancy Board in July. As required in the Bay Area Water Trail Act, the finalized plan will be submitted to the state legislature in January 2008.

Organizational Structure of the Water Trail

Up to this point, the Steering Committee has focused on how the Water Trail Plan should address trail head access and site improvements, wildlife and habitat issues, safety concerns and education and outreach. This range of topics was driven by requirements in the Bay Area Water Trail Act that lay out the components of the plan. In addition to these components, the legislation requires that the plan describe the organizational structure and procedures for trail development and management.

To develop the organizational model, representatives of the California Coastal Conservancy (Conservancy), the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Bay Access Inc. and BCDC met twice in January 2007. The group discussed tasks and responsibilities for implementing the trail and agreed on an institutional, or organizational, structure for trail implementation.
Figure 1. Organizational model for the water trail. Solid arrows show that the Agency and Non-profit Staff will support and facilitate the the Partnership and the Management Team. The open arrows indicate the Partnership’s role in providing recommendations and advice to the Management Team and the Staff.

Organizationa model - Water trail partnership

The organizational model that this group developed was shaped by the needs of the water trail project, the potential roles for each of the represented organizations, and sections of the Bay Area Water Trail Act that explicitly address institutional and organizational aspects of trail implementation. The legislation directs the Conservancy to take the lead for implementation of the trail, and calls for a collaborative partnership among interested organizations and agencies to develop the trail.

This partnership forms the core entity in the organizational model that was developed in the two implementation workshops. The Water Trail Partnership will have representation from a diverse group of stakeholders that includes the water trail lead agency and non-profit, shoreline and resource managers and regulators, trail users, environmental interests, safety and security interests, businesses and others. The current Steering Committee will serve as the starting membership of the Partnership, but it will need broader representation to sufficiently incorporate the range of stakeholder interests in the trail.

As envisioned in the workshops, the Partnership will function similarly to the Stakeholder Forum in the South Bay Salt Ponds Restoration Project. It will make recommendations to a Water Trail Management Team on water trail sites and key elements of trail implementation. This Management Team will oversee Water Trail Plan implementation and administer the trail. Using the recommendations and input from the Partnership, the Management Team will be responsible for:

  • interpreting and, as necessary, amending the trail plan;
  • deciding on funding priorities for specific projects and programmatic needs;
  • doing conceptual and strategic planning for site development and trail activities;
  • identifying and recommending sites for the water trail;
  • responding to opportunities for new water trail sites; and
  • determining where outreach and public input are needed.

Representation on the Management Team will consist of those agencies and organizations that have central roles and responsibilities for developing and managing the trail: the Conservancy, Bay Access, Department of Boating and Waterways, ABAG, BCDC and representation from shoreline planners and managers such as East Bay Regional Park District, Association of Harbormasters, San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. This Management Team will function similarly to the Project Management Team for the Salt Ponds Project.
Another role of the Partnership will be to provide expertise and advice to Water Trail Staff. In the proposed organizational model, the water trail project will have agency staff with the Conservancy and non-profit staff with Bay Access, Inc. The two staffs will work together to build and support the Partnership and support the Management Team. Non-profit staff will develop and implement the water trail education, outreach and stewardship program. Project tasks such as developing a signage program, and coordinating with other agencies and shoreline managers to assess, fund and improve water trail sites, will be the responsibility of the agency staff.

The organizational model also includes the non-profit’s board. The Bay Access Board will function as an independent entity that is linked to the Management Team via a board representative on the Team and via its staff’s role in the project. The Board will work to build a constituency of end-users and seek funding to implement the education, outreach and stewardship programs.

The suitability of this overall organizational model depends on funding and staffing levels. Depending on how implementation of the trail progresses, the organizational structure may evolve to address new needs, issues and opportunities as they arise.

Trail Head Designation
In the Bay Area Water Trail Act (Act), the legislature established the water trail and recognized that a series of existing and potential access points to the Bay have been identified. The Act finds that “the designation of a water trail linking these existing and any future access sites that is designed and implemented consistent with this chapter, would advance the regional goals and state mandate of the commission to foster public access and recreational use of the bay.” (Section 66691(d))
In previous meetings, staff showed a map of more than 130 existing access points for non-motorized small boats in waterfront parks, marinas and harbors, sites with public launch ramps or floats, public access areas, wildlife refuges and privately owned sites. Using three criteria, staff culled this list to a set of launch sites shown in Figure 2 that:

  • have launch facilities or planned facilities (e.g. ramp, float, etc.) or launch areas (e.g. a beach) that are or will be intended for this use;
  • are open to the public; and
  • do not have conditions that preclude inclusion in the water trail.

Staff recommends that the Committee designate this set of launches as the backbone of the Bay Area Water Trail, recognizing however, that it is not a final water trail alignment. Some designated sites may never be further improved as trail heads, and, as access opportunities develop around the Bay, new sites may be added to this group. Also, if significant wildlife or safety problems emerge at trail heads, the sites could be managed differently, relocated or closed.
Trail head designation is the inclusion or addition of launch sites in the water trail. Creating this working pool of water trail sites is only a first step in trail head designation. The project still faces the question of how to prioritize trail building efforts. Priorities can be driven by factors such as establishing specific linkages among popular sites or creating multi-point trips with interesting educational or interpretive themes. These priorities may change as the project evolves. However, the Water Trail Plan should designate the sites that form the backbone of the water trail, lay out initial priorities for trail development, and describe the criteria for designating additional sites that the Management Team and Partnership, will use for future trail head designation.

The initial designations are recommended by staff, based on the existing conditions at the working pool of sites shown in Figure 2. Early efforts to improve existing access points should be focused where launch facilities do not require additional improvements, site managers support trail head designations, and there are no major management issues that require further site assessment and planning prior to designation. Essentially, these sites are low-hanging fruit that only need to be improved with signage. By taking this approach the project implementers can build a critical mass of sites relatively quickly; these can be promoted as the Bay Area Water Trail. Staff did a first-pass assessment of the working pool of launches to identify sites that could fall within this category. These are indicated on the map in Figure 2.

In addition to these sites, early in project implementation, two or three sites that require additional assessment, planning and management should be fully designated and developed as trail heads. This will help project staff, managers and partners develop and assess management approaches for these challenging issues, and provide guidance for future site designation.

Throughout implementation of the water trail, there should be provisions in the Water Trail Plan for additional trail head designations to accommodate new access opportunities. Often these will be projects that are moving forward independently of the water trail. To take advantage of these opportunities, trail head designation should be coordinated with development of these access sites.

The designation of additional sites should be based on consistency with the principles that the Steering Committee articulated in previous meetings. For example, in the first principle on critical areas, the Committee developed criteria for identifying, critical areas of the Bay (e.g. navigational exclusion zones, boating hazards, and sensitive wildlife areas) that require providing users with particular information, restricting access or taking other special management actions. As the trail project moves forward, trail staff will work with shoreline managers to assess issues at a site (e.g. access needs, wildlife and safety concerns) and plan for improvements and management strategies that will support appropriate use of the site. The other principles and the strategies that address trail head improvements and management and wildlife and habitat, education and safety, are the tools that the water trail staff, Partnership and Management Team should apply these criteria and strategies in decisions about trail head designation and in recommendations for site improvements and management.