On the right path

Melissa Vernon walks with her son Evan, 5, center, and his

A freshly paved trail coiling through a northwest Gilroy neighborhood cost $1.5 million to complete, but it’s the little joys of the outdoor amenity that have kindergarten students at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School wide-eyed.

“Look! A bike!” shouted a small student Thursday as a teenager glided by on a beach cruiser.

The observation was met with a chorus of “ooh’s” and “ah’s.”

The entire student body at Antonio Del Buono Elementary – about 630 students – got some healthy mileage out of the recently completed Lions Creek Trail Thursday, when children in kindergarten through fifth grades took an inaugural amble (in staggered times) on a 3,500-foot-long walk/bike path running parallel along Lions Creek from Kern Avenue to Wren Avenue; and from Wren Avenue to Farrell Avenue.

The route is defined by open fields, views of the surrounding neighborhoods, a shaded underpass beneath Wren Avenue and a 110-foot pedestrian bridge arching across the creek.

Construction on the Lions Creek Trail began in April 2011, wrapped up around January 2012 and cost $1,550,000 – of which $150,000 came from the city’s Public Facilities Impact Fund and the other $1,400,000 consists of grants from the California Natural Resources Agency, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the state’s Safe Routes to School program.

“This is awesome. This is so beautiful. The city is doing something really good,” said Phil Padron, 58, one of several Antonio Del Buono parents who joined the 40-plus kindergartners and dozens of teachers for the morning’s first stroll. Padron lives nearby Antonio Del Buono, located at 9300 Wren Ave.

Padron has resided in Gilroy for more than 30 years, and plans on walking his daughter, 5-year-old Reyna Padron, to school via the new path.

Thursday’s walk was organized in conjunction with the Safe Routes to Schools program, which the City of Gilroy and the Gilroy Unified School District partook in together. The city spearheaded the construction of the trail, while GUSD received an additional Safe Routes to Schools state grant designated for education and outreach.

GUSD used the grant to contract Cheryl Ellemberg as a Safe Routes to School coordinator from January through June of 2012. Her task is to learn from the pilot project at Antonio Del Buono; act as a liaison between the city and school district; and help roll out the best walking activities and practices for all GUSD elementary and middle schools by fall of 2012.

“I would like to see behaviors modified so that we as a community are more focused on walking and biking and skateboarding and getting active in general,” said Ellemberg.

The progress at Lions Creek is micro-example of how things could look in the future.

As additional walk/bike paths are completed within Gilroy, city and school officials hope the branching of infrastructure will not only offer safe, enjoyable passage from one point to another – but encourage outdoor recreation and consistent foot traffic.

Development of the Lions Creek Trail marks another stepping stone in the growth of Gilroy’s urban trail system. The far-reaching vision is laid out in the city’s 2005 Trails Master Plan; a “long-range blueprint for a comprehensive citywide trails system” that includes 43.2 miles of trails. There is no timeline in the master plan, rather, trails will be realized over time as funding for projects becomes available.

In the future, City Transportation Engineer Don Dey said paths and trails will allow pedestrians to walk or bike all over Gilroy, thus encouraging connectivity between “attractions that we have here in the city – whether it’s shopping or parks or schools.”

The goal is to establish a citywide network of routes, eventually connecting the dots to create a grid of pedestrian/bike paths that link schools, neighborhoods, the downtown, parks, places of employment and Valley Transit Authority bus stops.

“We’re trying to build logical links,” Dey explained, “then, when we’ve got two trails that are fairly close together, we’ll close that gap and connect so that it’s a much larger trail network.”

Right now, the Lions Creek Trail is a standalone trail. However, it is part of a safe-routes footprint that will eventually link Antonio Del Buono and neighborhoods in the east with Christopher High School and surrounding homes in the west.

As for the next wave of projects, Dey said there are three likely candidates. This includes the Ronan Channel, which would head north from Sixth Street to Leavesley Road; the Lions Creek Channel, which would head due west from Kern Avenue toward Santa Teresa Boulevard; and then another segment that would extend the existing Lions Creek Trail to Cougar Court at Christopher High School – a “good connection from Del Buono up to CHS,” Dey noted.

Getting the ball rolling is a matter of designing the next trail segments, then keeping an eye out for grants and funding opportunities available through the county and federal government, Dey explained.

“That’s what funding agencies like to see: projects that are ready for construction,” said Dey. “(Having the designs ready) puts us in a good place to compete for the construction dollars.”

Potential funding resources might include the California Natural Resource Agency, the Valley Transit Authority or the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Dey said.

If reactions from Antonio Del Buono teachers and parents are indicative of anything, spreading the web of pedestrian-designated paths throughout the city is a good thing.

Parent Cynthia Perez, 24, who lives in the area, said she’s looking forward to biking the trail with her son, Louis Medina, 6.

Perez regularly drops Louis off in the morning with his bike, then rides her own bike at the end of the day so the two can ride back home together.

“The trail is going to be a lot better,” said Perez Thursday. “On the street and sidewalk we have to go around the cars and other people.”

The only blight on this nice development? Taggers.

The bridge has already been vandalized with graffiti – something City Senior Civil Engineer David Stubchaer noted “will be a chore” to abate.

Whoever marked up the trail should know: Graffiti makes the kindergartners sad.

“How did it go?” asked Principal Velia Codiga at the end of the walk Thursday.

“The students said their hearts were sad,” replied Yard Duty Victoria Potman. “Because there was so much graffiti.”


Leave your comments