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[whitespace] Suburban trailblazers

Sunnyvale--Sunnyvale officials dropped a plan for a trail along Stevens Creek three years ago, but the city eventually may find itself getting squeezed at either end as Mountain View and Cupertino complete their own trail sections.

This month Cupertino is beginning a yearlong technical study on its portion of the trail, which will one day connect a 54-mile trek from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

Mountain View, which has spent nearly 10 years and $10 million on its portion starting at Shoreline Park, is now studying a plan that will take the trail to Mountain View High School from its current stopping point near El Camino Real.

It could take several years before the trail reaches Sunnyvale's borders on either side.

Both Mountain View and Cupertino are sponsors of an Oct. 3 fundraiser to be held by the Friends of Stevens Creek Trail. The non-profit organization is holding its sixth annual Trailblazer Race, at Charleston Park near Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. The day will feature 10k and 5k races, youth races and 2- and 4-mile nature walks, among other activities. Races and walks begin at 8:30 a.m.; youth races at 10 a.m.

Members of the Friends group said it was a "big shock" when some Sunnyvale residents protested the portion of the trail that would have taken bicyclists and hikers right past their backyards. As a result of the protests, the Sunnyvale City Council dropped the idea in 1996.

But trail proponents said they believe Sunnyvale residents will change their minds as the neighboring cities complete their portions of the trail.

"I think that once the Mountain View segment is completed ... that will increase the enthusiasm for the trail," said Kathy Thibodeaux, vice president of the Friends.

But one Sunnyvale resident predicted residents will not change their minds.

"They were correctly saying they had not been involved [in planning the trail]," says David Simons, former chairman of the Sunnyvale Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. "Unfortunately, because they felt left out there was a really emotional reaction." He says he doubts emotions will change in favor of the trail.

Simons says that, in addition to residents' concerns about safety, the trail could result in the destruction of part of an original tree canopy that still exists along the creek in Sunnyvale.

Trail advocates say they expect that issues of proximity to residents, environmentally sensitive areas and steep terrain will throw alignment of the trail onto city streets at some points.

"The reality is it's not a big problem for the trail," says Rhonda Scherber, the Friends' founder and past president.

In Cupertino, for example, the trail will come down from the Stevens Creek Reservoir to Stevens Creek Boulevard, where a steep hillside and property lines will probably force the trail onto streets all the way to Highway 280. One possible alignment will take the trail up Stevens Creek Boulevard to a new rear entrance to Rancho San Antonio County Park.

Trail advocates and city officials say they believe the trail, planned since the 1960s, will serve not only as a great recreational resource, but also as an alternative commuting route.

A recent usage study conducted in Mountain View found that 30 percent of those using the trail were commuting. The trail, which will be paved all the way through the city, connects a major employment center along the north side of Highway 101 with the city's downtown area and Caltrain station.

"It's a great north-south route," says Simons, who currently serves as Sunnyvale's representative to the Bicycle Advisory Committee of the Valley Transportation Authority.

In addition, a state requirement mandates the cleanup and restoration of Stevens Creek along the trail route. Steelhead trout have been spotted at the mouth of the creek for the first time in decades. Generations ago the Ohlone Indians who lived in this valley called Stevens Creek "Grizzly Creek" because grizzly bears gathered on the shores to catch the abundant trout that lived there.

Another positive, according to Mountain View official Glen Lyles, is that the trail has linked his city together because of the extensive use of bridges over former barriers such as the Central Expressway and Highway 85.

"What it does for Mountain View is it really connects a lot of neighborhoods," he says.
Pam Marino

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Web extra to the September 23-29, 1999 issue of Metro.

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