If you have ever walked across the Golden Gate bridge, flown a kite along the waterfront in Tiburon, in-line skated on the Foster City levee, hiked through the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, or windsurfed off Candlestick Point, you too have enjoyed the Bay Trail. The Bay Trail is a planned recreational corridor that, when complete, will encircle San Francisco and San Pablo Bays with a continuous 500-mile network of bicycling and hiking trails. It will connect the shoreline of all nine Bay Area counties, link 47 cities, and cross the major toll bridges in the region. To date, approximately 330 miles of the alignment—over 60 percent of the Bay Trail’s ultimate length—have been completed.

Senate Bill 100, authored by then-state Senator Bill Lockyer and passed into law in 1987, directed the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to develop a plan for this "ring around the Bay," including a specific alignment for the Bay Trail. The Bay Trail Plan, adopted by ABAG in July 1989, includes a proposed alignment; a set of policies to guide the future selection, design and implementation of routes; and strategies for implementation and financing. Since its inception, the Bay Trail Plan has enjoyed widespread support in the Bay Area; for example, the majority of the jurisdictions along the Bay Trail alignment have passed resolutions in support of the Bay Trail and have incorporated it into their general plans.

The Bay Trail provides easily accessible recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hikers, joggers, bicyclists and skaters. It also offers a setting for wildlife viewing and environmental education, and it increases public respect and appreciation for the Bay. It also has important transportation benefits, providing a commute alternative for cyclists, and connecting to numerous public transportation facilities (including ferry terminals, light-rail lines, bus stops and Caltrain, Amtrak, and BART stations); also, the Bay Trail will eventually cross all the major toll bridges in the Bay Area.

The Bay Trail offers access to commercial, industrial and residential neighborhoods; points of historic, natural and cultural interest; recreational areas like beaches, marinas, fishing piers, boat launches, and over 130 parks and wildlife preserves totaling 57,000 acres of open space. It passes through highly urbanized areas like downtown San Francisco as well as remote natural areas like the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (The Bay Trail’s policies specifically seek to protect sensitive natural habitats.) Depending on the location of its segments, the Bay Trail consists of paved multi-use paths, dirt trails, bike lanes, sidewalks or city streets signed as bike routes. The Bay Trail also connects to trails that lead inland, and with the Ridge Trail, another regional trail network (which travels inland, mostly along the ridges of the Bay Area’s hills). 

In 1990, the San Francisco Bay Trail Project was created as a nonprofit organization dedicated to planning, promoting and advocating implementation of the Bay Trail. To carry out its mission, the Bay Trail Project makes available grant funds for trail construction and maintenance; participates in planning efforts and encourages consistency with the adopted Bay Trail Plan; educates the public and decision-makers about the merits and benefits of the Bay Trail; produces maps and other materials to publicize the existence of the Bay Trail; and disseminates information about progress on its development. (However, the Bay Trail Project does not own land or construct trail segments; instead segments are built, owned, managed and maintained by cities, counties, park districts and other agencies with land-management responsibilities, often in partnership with local nonprofit organizations, citizens’ groups or businesses.)

The Bay Trail Project is staffed by four full-time employees and several part-time ones, and is governed by a 28-member volunteer board of directors representing a broad range of interests that meets twice a year, and by a smaller steering committee that meets every other month to discuss program and planning issues. The Bay Trail Project is administered by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and is housed at ABAG’s offices in Oakland.

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