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Posted on Thu, Jan. 16, 2003
Stevens Creek Trail runs into roadblock
By Joshua L. Kwan
Mercury News

A plan to complete Mountain View's popular Stevens Creek Trail -- used daily by hundreds of bikers, walkers, skaters and joggers -- has run headlong into resistance and skepticism from neighbors and environmental groups.

So far, the paved thoroughfare runs 3.8 miles upstream along Stevens Creek from Shoreline Park to Yuba Drive. But construction of the last segment of the trail -- 1.7 miles from Yuba Drive to Mountain View High School -- is proving to be the most troublesome.

That's where Highway 85 pushes up against the creek's steep, narrow banks -- in some places leaving little room for a trail. At one point, the 10-foot-wide trail encounters an area only two feet wide. But city planners would like to maintain the original width by building that section of the trail above the creek.

State and federal environmental officials worry that construction of the trail would damage creek habitat where threatened steelhead trout make their way to and from the ocean. Neighbors, meanwhile, fret over the onslaught of pedestrian traffic that will bump up against their back yards.

``There's no protection,'' said 70-year-old Sandy Sanders, whose property is adjacent to the creek and the proposed trail extension.

In separate letters to the city last year, officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game each expressed concern that construction plans have not been fully explained. They are especially worried about portions of the trail that, they say, would cause significant harm to the environment, including the removal of up to 70 trees and surrounding vegetation near the creek.

Those plants are essential to the threatened steelhead trout's route to the sea. Trees provide shade, cooling the water during the summer to a comfortable temperature for central California coast steelhead, said Gary Stern, a biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

``In some cases it may be better to move the trail to side streets and away from the creek,'' said Stern, who has studied the city's proposal.

Kelly Crowley, an environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, said the ideal solution is to reroute the trail along residential side streets in those areas where she says construction of the trail would cause the most damage to creek habitat.

But city streets should be a last resort, said Aaron Grossman, president of Friends of Stevens Creek Trail, a group of Santa Clara County residents who support construction of a contiguous trail from Cupertino to Mountain View. He said people seeking a bit of nature shouldn't be channeled to asphalt streets that must be shared with cars.

``We think being on a street is not a trail,'' Grossman said. Rather than hurting the creek, he said, a trail would actually enhance its health. ``People take care of the part of nature that they can see and get close to,'' he said.

Mountain View's trail is by far the most developed. Cupertino is in the early planning phase of its trail, while Los Altos and Sunnyvale can't build their portions of the trail because they don't own the rights to the land next to the creek, which is private property.
Contact Joshua L. Kwan at jkwan@sjmercury.com or (650) 688-7580.