RICHMOND -- Bruce Beyaert says it takes a village to build a trail -- especially along the long and winding shoreline of this old industrial town.
Friends and supporters, however, credit the tenacious trail advocate and his volunteer group for bringing together a large cast to create the biggest segment so far of a planned 500-mile trail around the entire San Francisco Bay shoreline.
Thirty-two of the 42 planned Bay Trail miles in Richmond are now complete, knitting together a necklace of parks among new waterfront homes and offices and old gray industries, docks and boatyards.
None of the 46 other cities along the Bay Trail has so much trail finished, nor do they have as much shoreline. The whole trail, on which work began in 1987, is about 60 percent done.
It wouldn't have happened so fast if not for Beyaert and his spirited group called TRAC, or Trails for Richmond Action Committee
"Bruce's leadership has been essential to the trail. He is smart, pleasant but tenacious," said Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt, "and TRAC has focused attention on the Richmond shoreline trail like a laser. They just never give up."
The trail is part of a Richmond shoreline renaissance that attracts hikers, joggers, and riders from inside and outside the city to the path.
On a recent sunny weekend morning, several people were riding and hiking the trail, savoring views of the vast Bay, the islands and boats in it, and bridges across it.
"Hiking, jogging and or riding along San Francisco Bay, how can you have it any better?" Beyaert asked as he walked from Point Potrero, a former shipbuilding center, to Ferry Point, a former dock and railroad terminus for ferries crossing the Bay.
"For mental and physical health," he said, "it's really important for people to get in open space and get away from the pressures of urban life."
Beyaert, 77, an avid Richmond hiker and former top environmental manager for Chevron USA worldwide, plays down his own efforts.
He's proud to boast, however, about his group's work.
TRAC has worked with landowners, neighbors, walkers, bike riders, business owners, developers, industry and railroad managers, environmental planners and scientists, politicians and many city, regional, state and regional agencies.
Within Richmond, the city and East Bay Regional Park District oversee the trail construction, but TRAC assists in many ways behind the scenes.
"Planning trails is a group effort," Beyaert said. "It often is not easy. It can take years to get one little section."
To assemble one deal for a trail section near Brickyard Cove, the group talked Santa Fe railroad into selling land to one private land owner so a trail could be financed by yet another shoreline landowner.
When a potential snag emerged, TRAC lined up yet another company to remove and recycle the railroad rails that were in the way.
"We even made a little money for the rail recycling," Beyaert said. "We plowed it right back into our trail work."
TRAC has little money, but it has helped Richmond land more than $7 million in shoreline trail grants by writing grant applications. Another volunteer has written text for history panels on the path.
The diverse group of volunteers in TRAC include an environmental shoreline planner, a retired news editor, a historian, a web designer, boaters and bicyclists.
The trail has grown from a tiny start.
Richmond had just 65 feet of shoreline accessible to the public in the mid-1960s when a public outcry over filling up the Bay for development produced a state law to protect the waterway and provide public access.
Richmond had 12 miles of shoreline trail -- most in a series of parks -- in 1999 when Beyaert decided to found TRAC with the encouragement of several conservation leaders.
"We realized we need to build a constituency for the trail," Beyaert said.
So the group recruited an e-mail list of more than 2,000 people and groups to write, speak out and lobby for projects.
Beyaert's enthusiasm is infectious.
"He motivates by his example and hard work," said Whitney Dotson, an East Bay Regional Park Board member who serves on the TRAC board.
Last month, Beyaert amped up interest in the trail by hosting a group of eight Bay Area travel writers on a tour of the path and attractions on it -- including the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park
Beyaert said his group's work won't be finished until the last mile of the Bay Trail through Richmond is finished in a few years.
"We have a way to go," he said. "Our group is looking forward to the day when the trail is complete, our mission is accomplished, and we will have put ourselves out of business."
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