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Plan for New Ventura Trail Expected to Win Approval : Development: Proposal would link two routes to form 18.8-mile path. A bikeway through Santa Paula and Fillmore is also envisioned.


Cyclists, hikers and maybe even horseback riders will replace railroad cars along miles of old train routes, according to a plan the Ventura City Council is expected to approve tonight.

The agreement paves the way for acquisition of the Ventura and Santa Paula branch train lines by Ventura, Fillmore, Santa Paula and the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

Ventura city officials said buying the 5.8 miles of Southern Pacific Transportation Co. railroad right of way would allow them to create a Ventura River Trail, linking the existing Ojai Valley Trail and Omer Rains beachside trail to form an uninterrupted 18.8-mile path for bikes and pedestrians.

"It's the ultimate California experience, going from the ocean to the mountains," said Gary Klein, an owner of Cycle Scene bicycle shop in Ventura. "It's a great idea."

County planners said the 32-mile branch line running through Santa Paula and Fillmore could also be developed as a bicycle path later.

County and city staff members have identified $8 million in federal and state funds to spend on buying the tracks and surrounding land, and the city has assembled $1.75 million in state and federal grants for creating the river trail.

A master plan for the river trail was completed in 1992, calling for three parallel trails from Foster Park to Main Street in Ventura, to be used by cyclists, horseback riders and walkers.

The bike path would be paved, the pedestrian path would be gravel or cinder and the horse path would be soil or wood chips, according to the master plan. The city will landscape the edges of the trail and build rest areas alongside. The master plan also calls for interpretive signs describing nearby oil and railroad history, plants and wildlife.

The Ventura branch rail line, an offshoot of the main coastal railway, has not been used since the late 1980s. Its tracks and ties will probably be removed when the river trail is built. The Santa Paula branch is still used by freight trains and some short-line movie or dinner trains.

The Santa Paula tracks will be maintained so those uses can continue, said Christopher Stephens of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. He said bike and pedestrian paths may be built alongside the railroad tracks in the future, and that the tracks might someday be modified or replaced for commuter rail service.

State and federal legislative efforts to unclog freeways and clean up air pollution have included substantial funds for bike paths, and the county plans to take advantage of them, Stephens said.

The measure the City Council will consider tonight is a memorandum of understanding among Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ventura and the county. Each party agrees to contribute $50,000 for the preliminary administrative costs of buying the rail lines. After the land is assessed, the county will negotiate the purchase of the land.

Stephens said Southern Pacific was a willing seller, and a Southern Pacific spokesman said the company had agreed to give the county first dibs on the property, which it had begun to sell off piecemeal to adjacent landowners before the county stepped in last year.

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