The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has approved a 6-mile public trail extension project in the Peninsula Watershed area that will improve public hiking options and trail access, adding to the existing Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail.

Called the Southern Skyline Boulevard Ridge Trail Extension Project, the project will create a 6-mile trail extension at the southern end of the 10-mile Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail in San Mateo County. The extension would parallel upper Highway 35 from the State Route 92 intersection south to Phleger Estate park.

Tim Ramirez, the natural resources and land management director with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, or SFPUC, said the project would provide public educational opportunities and more public trail access.

“This is a new place to go and an easier place to get to, we hope,” Ramirez said.

The trail expansion will have a half-mile trail loop compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and include a parking lot and two restrooms. SFPUC owns the Peninsula Watershed land, a 23,000-acre area that includes the Crystal Springs reservoirs, as well as the Pilarcitos and San Andreas lakes. The area provides drinking water to residents in San Francisco and northern San Mateo County. Many native plant and wildlife species are threatened or endangered. Ramirez hopes the extension will provide more educational opportunities about the watershed and its importance in protecting water quality and its ecosystems.

“We are really trying to make a lot of headway on our educational opportunities,” Ramirez said.

The new trail would be accessible via an annual permit system. There would be no limit on the capacity of the permit system, Ramirez said. Users would access the trail without supervision by obtaining a permit that includes an educational tutorial on using it responsibly and how the watershed is managed to protect drinking water and the environment. The permit system will be modeled on the East Bay Municipal Utility District trail use permit system to make the process as easy as possible for users. In addition, the permit system would allow SFPUC to track usage of the trails better and give it a better idea of how to manage the area.

“This is a chance to get the word out about our operations and our organization and the watershed,” Ramirez said.

The project was approved Tuesday, May 11, and construction will start in 2022 and end in 2023. SFPUC’s next step will be to put the project out for a bid to have a contract by the end of 2021. The trail would be a small unpaved road of natural material that would look like a narrow fire road. The Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail, opened in 2003, will continue to offer guided hiking, running and mountain biking events three days a week. The Southern Skyline Boulevard Expansion will fill a part of the broader Bay Area Ridge Trail network, a series of local trails that hopes to one day be a 550-mile loop encircling the Bay Area.

“We want everybody to have a chance to visit it,” Ramirez said.

Janet McBride is the Bay Area Ridge Trail executive director, which works toward having a connected hiking, cycling and equestrian trail on the ridgelines around San Francisco Bay. Her organization provided input to SFPUC on the extension, and she is thrilled at the project approval and trail extension.

“It’s been a long, arduous labor of love over the decades with the agency partners, the stakeholders and advocates to come to an agreement on what the trail route should be and planning and designing a trail that will be environmentally sustainable and safe for all the user groups,” McBride said.

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