All Aboard!

City puts best foot forward on Del Rio Trail

By R.E. Graswich
August 2021

Sacramento is getting good at building bike paths. This news may surprise cynics who think the city’s recreational talents range between mediocre and none, but it’s true.

The proof is the Del Rio Trail project. Running nearly 5 miles between Sutterville Road and Bill Conlin Sports Complex on Freeport Boulevard, Del Rio shapes up as a positive jolt to the city’s quality of life. Cyclists and runners will love it.

The trail follows an abandoned Sacramento Southern Railroad route through some surprisingly lush suburban landscapes. In the fine railroad tradition, it passes along the backside of South Land Park neighborhoods and offers vistas impossible to see from city streets. Del Rio rediscovers a forgotten, hidden page of the community. It’s a treat for urban explorers.

The trail will serve as a transportation asset that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just a 4.8-mile folly for Land Park, South Land Park, Greenhaven and Pocket residents.

Del Rio will hook up with the Sacramento River Parkway and create a loop that safely carries cyclists, runners and walkers from the levee near Pocket Road to the zoo and William Land Park. From there, enthusiasts can pedal to Old Sacramento or even Folsom.

“Once it’s completed, people are really going to be excited,” says Scott Burns, a board member with the South Land Park Neighborhood Association. “We polled our community and received about 600 responses, which is pretty good. The neighborhood is very much in support, by about 90 percent.”

Unlike the Sacramento River Parkway, which was promised by the city in 1975 and won’t be finished for another three or four years, the Del Rio Trail has advanced with lightning speed.

The idea was launched about five years ago. The City Council quickly approved the new trail. Funding was secured and final designs should be ready this fall. With luck, the $20 million Del Rio experience will open by late 2022.

As always, there’s controversy—this time an ironic twist on the Not In My Backyard disease. Backyards are the problem. About 60 homeowners along the Del Rio route mysteriously extended their yards into the old rail right of way. Maybe they assumed nobody would notice.

When the city surveyed property lines for the Del Rio Trail, the encroachments were exposed. The city sent demand letters to property owners, who responded with predictable representations of shock and disbelief. My backyard? How could that be? Most pleaded innocence, swearing they had no idea how those bigger yards came into their possession.

“To the city’s credit, it’s working with the property owners on an individual basis,” says Burns, who knows about such matters. He’s an attorney whose career includes years handling encroachment controversies for CalTrans.

Another controversy involves trains, which isn’t a surprise given Del Rio’s history as a railroad route. A group of rail enthusiasts wants to preserve the Del Rio tracks for the fantasy of excursion trains.

Never mind that Sacramento Southern stopped hauling freight down the Del Rio tracks almost 50 years ago. Or that many rails and ties are buried and rotten and disrupted by scrub oak trees. The dream of steam engines still sparkles.

“There’s no way the community is going to allow trains to run through South Land Park,” Burns says. “It’s not going to happen.”

The city plans to honor the trail’s legacy without resurrecting a real railroad. Del Rio will incorporate old tracks along the bike and pedestrian paths as feasible, similar to R Street near the Fox & Goose pub.

Note the plural “paths.” Here’s an important Del Rio attribute. Much of the trail will include two unique, parallel tracks, one for bikes and one for pedestrians. City designers have finally realized a double-path layout is best for popular trails, keeping cyclists separated from citizens on foot.

South Land Park neighbors plan to raise money to install interpretive historical features along Del Rio, sort of a cherry on the sundae. When the city finally finishes the Sacramento River Parkway, Sacramento’s bike paths will be the envy of the free world.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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