Fifteen years ago, I was a bicycle commuter in Seattle. My old pink Bianchi was decked out with black fenders and I wore rain gear to protect myself from the elements. Come rain or come shine, I rode to work, 11 miles uphill, along a popular urban bike path, the Burke-Gillman Trail.
This week I thought of Seattle fondly as I took a wet spin on the Joe Rodota Trail. Approximately 6 miles of paved trail run from Railroad square in Santa Rosa to downtown Sebastopol. The former railroad line is a great opportunity to explore a little bit of nature, without having to put on muck boots and slog around a muddy trail.
Leaving the office on a lunch break, I entered the trail at the pedestrian/bicycle bridge intersection with the Prince Memorial Greenway (between West Third Street and Railroad Street), southwest of the Marriott Courtyard Hotel. From there it was a somewhat slippery ride to the trail’s terminus at Mill Station Road and Highway 116 in Sebastopol.
If you don’t work downtown, several parking spots are available. In Santa Rosa, street parking can be found along Olive Park on Hazel Street or Orange Street.
There is also a trailhead lot at the west end of Sebastopol road, with spaces for the disabled. Starting from the other end, a parking lot can be found in Sebastopol off Burnett Street between Gravenstein Highway South and Petaluma Avenue.
The path crosses industrial areas, ranches and the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It is very flat, and despite the distance (round-trip it is approximately 12 miles) it is an easy bike ride for beginners of all ages.
Along the way you will cross three bridges sitting atop former railroad trestles. These are remnants of the old Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad, an electric freight and passenger line which started in 1904, hauling eggs, poultry and various agricultural products between west county and Petaluma. After passing hands through the years, it slowly was abandoned, until 1984, when it was acquired by the Regional Parks department, which began to transform it into a park.
This time of year, the trail is not very picturesque. Leafless trees are covered in moss and lichen and nearby ranches are a mixture of bright green and patches of pooling water. The path is famous for a wonderful array of spring wildflowers, but we will have to wait a couple of months to see them. Regional Parks has said that this is a great trail for year-round bird watching, so bring the binoculars, especially around the Laguna.
The paved path is a popular among recreational cyclists looking for a quick bit of exercise and commuters seeking an alternate route from west county to downtown Santa Rosa. It is also suitable for roller skaters and hiking with pets; however, I would exercise great caution if you are starting out in Santa Rosa, where the trail begins in a very industrial area. Signs along the way caution you to not hike alone in this region. The picturesque part of the trail is closer to Sebastopol, so if you are looking for a short and easy day hike, I would start there and turn around before the Sebastopol Road parking lot.
News Researcher Janet Balicki, writes the trailhead blog and can be reached at janet.balicki @pressdemocrat.com.