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The San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail strives to create a network of access sites, or “trailheads,” that allow people in small, non-motorized boats to safely enjoy the historic, scenic, and environmental richness of the Bay through single and multiple-day trips.

arrow See San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail Plan Draft Revised EIR (pdf 9.1 mb)


San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail is a new regional water access project

photo of boats and bay shore

The water trail would improve access to the fascinating bay shoreline
for pedestrians as well as boaters

The California Coastal Conservancy approved $1 million in funding to begin implementation of the Water Trail Plan on March 17, 2011.



From the San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail Plan Final Environmental Impact Report

The San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail (Water Trail, or WT) would bring education about personal boating, navigational safety, and appropriate boating behavior near sensitive wildlife species and shoreline habitat to the boating public through a variety of means. The majority of the 112 trailheads proposed for designation as part of the network already exist and are used by the public. They are located along the shoreline of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties.

The WT was authorized by the San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail Act (Water Trail Act), signed into law in September 2005. The San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail project would implement the Water Trail Plan through a trailhead designation process designed to support improved and safer non-motorized small boat access to San Francisco Bay, and protection of environmental resources through careful consideration of potential impacts related to implementation of the Plan. The WT Plan (BCDC 2007b) includes trailhead development and management strategies, organizational structure and responsibilities, a trailhead designation process, and guidance on trail planning and program development. The Plan’s trailhead development and management strategies promote boater outreach and education; appropriate trailhead location and facility design; and maintenance and operation plans. The WT Plan is a guide to trail implementation for agencies and organizations that will develop and manage the WT program as well as for site owners and managers interested in becoming part of the WT and other stakeholders from around the region.


The WT has the potential to enhance Bay Area communities’ connections to the Bay and create new linkages to existing shoreline open space and other regional trails.

The WT program, as defined in the WT Plan, is needed to:

• Create a coordinated, linked set of non-motorized small boat (NMSB) access locations allowing single point, multiple point, and multi-day itineraries

• Plan for increased NMSB use associated with regional population growth and changes in population demographics

• Promote safe non-motorized small boating practices

• Increase environmental awareness and sensitivity of NMSB users to minimize potential impacts of NMSB use on sensitive wildlife and habitat

• Promote placement of enhanced facilities and any new access locations in areas where they would provide the greatest recreational benefit and avoid or minimize significant adverse impacts to wildlife and habitat

• Optimize the use of available funding for trailhead improvements and other WT activities

• Ensure protection of private property, and

• Minimize impacts on agricultural operations

The benefits potentially associated with the implementation of the WT Plan are extensive and would include:

• Improved NMSB access to San Francisco Bay

• Reduced impacts to sensitive wildlife and habitat, and other resources through appropriately directing the location and types of development associated with access sites and through education of boaters

• Increased high quality information regarding NMSB access facilities through the development of educational and outreach materials

• Increased stewardship of the environment and of trailhead facilities

• Increased opportunities to recreate close to home and use public transportation rather than private vehicles (through the addition of boat storage facilities)

• Increased awareness and provision of facilities that comply with pending Americans with Disabilities Act-Architectural Barriers Act (ADA-ABA) Accessibility Guidelines, and information regarding ADA/ABA design requirements for NMSB facilities

• Improved planning and more effective use of public funding for high priority improvements

• Localized economic benefits to waterfront and water-oriented businesses, and

• Expansion of the other regional trail systems (Bay Trail, Ridge Trail) to include the waters of the Bay



The primary project area for the WT is defined in the WT Act authorizing legislation as the area within BCDC’s jurisdiction defined in Section 66610 of the Public Resources Code, and the area described in Section 29101 of the Public Resources Code (i.e., primary and secondary management areas of Suisun Marsh as shown on the Suisun Marsh Protection Plan Map). The primary project area can be summarized as follows (BCDC 2007a):

• The open water, marshes and mudflats of greater San Francisco Bay, including Suisun, San Pablo, Honker, Richardson, San Rafael, San Leandro and Grizzly Bays and the Carquinez Strait

• The first 100 feet inland from the shoreline3 around San Francisco Bay

• The portion of the Suisun Marsh- including levees, waterways, marshes and grasslands- below the ten-foot contour line

• Portions of most creeks, rivers, sloughs and other tributaries that flow into San Francisco Bay, and

• Salt ponds, duck hunting preserves, game refuges and other managed wetlands that have been diked off from San Francisco Bay



1. Trailhead Location
Seek opportunities to increase capacity at existing launches or create new access, especially at sites that are most desirable to WT users and where adverse impacts to wildlife and habitat or navigational safety are unlikely.

2. Linking Access Points
Seek opportunities to link trailheads to one another and to other regional trails (e.g., the Bay Trail) and create linkages that serve different trail users’ needs and interests.

3. Improvements Consistent with Site Characteristics
Match the type and design of trail-related improvements to the site conditions and likely trail user groups. Ensure that the level of use accommodated provides a high-quality recreational experience, protects the environment and ensures user safety.

4. Consistency with Policies, Plans and Priorities
Coordinate plans for trailhead development, management, and use to be consistent with existing policies, plans and priorities of land and resources managers at and around trailheads.

5. Design Guidelines
Develop and update, as needed, design guidelines for WT-oriented access improvements.

6. Management Resources
Match the facility improvements and use to the management resources available for long-term maintenance and management of the facilities.

7. Maintenance and Operations
Develop a plan for maintenance and operation of trailhead facilities and identify who will be responsible.

8. Parking
Provide parking or drop-off zones as close as possible to launch points, extend parking time to at least four hours, with overnight parking where possible. Where necessary, restrict the number of users and protect shoreline visual character in locating parking.

9. Restrooms
Provide restroom facilities where feasible and appropriate.

10. Accessibility
Develop and improve launch facilities to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)12

11. On-site Equipment Storage
Where feasible and appropriate, provide storage areas and facilities for NMSBs and associated equipment.

12. Non-Profit Boating Clubs and On-site Equipment Concessions
Promote and encourage publicly accessible non-profit boating clubs and/or on-site equipment concessions at appropriate trailheads and facilitate their provision of information on site- specific safety and security, and wildlife and habitat issues.

13. Overnight Accommodations
Develop new campsites at or near trailheads where consistent with land managers’ plans and resources. Coordinate with land managers, organizations and businesses to provide overnight accommodations on the trail in motels, hostels, historic ships, etc.

14. Site Review
Conduct, coordinate or sponsor periodic reviews of trailheads to identify site-specific issues such as user conflicts, overuse of facilities or non-compliance with rules, and use this information to improve site management or facilities.

15. Habitat Restoration and Access
Seek opportunities to coordinate trailhead development with habitat restoration, enhancement or creation.

16. Monitoring Impacts
Sponsor pilot projects to monitor trail impacts in different habitats to develop and test effective and consistent monitoring methods and learn about impacts and ways to avoid them. Monitor wildlife and habitat conditions prior to, during, and after inclusion of the site as part of the WT.

17. Outreach, Educational and Interpretative Signage
Provide signage and other media at and near trailheads, consistent with other WT outreach and education materials. Materials should be site-specific in terms of users groups, natural, cultural and historic resources, safety issues and rules.

18. Outreach and Coordination
Coordinate with and conduct outreach to paddleboat and boardsailing teachers and guides, outfitters, and other WT-related businesses, agencies and organizations to make them aware of boating practices consistent with the WT ethic and policies.

19. Educational Media
Provide a guidebook for using the WT, a WT website, and brochures, maps and other educational media for WT use.

20. Guided Trips
Provide guided trips or tours led by docents or rangers.

21. Boater-to-Boater Education
Coordinate with agencies and boating organizations to facilitate and enhance existing boater- to-boater outreach and education, and incorporate WT-supported information and messages. Train volunteers and WT staff to educate boaters, especially during high-use times of the year.

22. Trailhead Stewards
Recruit and coordinate volunteers to be trailhead stewards to help maintain and manage trailheads.

23. Training for Enforcement
Where feasible and appropriate, provide training to local law enforcement on wildlife and environmental regulations to identify or prevent violations at trailheads.

24. Limitations on Trailhead Use
Establish limits on the number of WT users at a site to prevent impacts to wildlife, habitat, or damage to facilities. Enforce this through either parking restrictions or limits on boating activities and periodic closures when necessary.



NMSB users have specific access needs and preferences. A fundamental goal of the WT is to improve access facilities for NMSBs. The facilities emphasized in these strategies are those that were identified by NMSB users and organizations as the facilities that would most enhance a boater’s likelihood of using a site, and the safety and quality of the experience at a site.

These strategies call for:

• Site design that is consistent with site characteristics

• Development of design guidelines

• Provision of facilities that are accessible to those with disabilities, as feasible, and

• As appropriate to the site, provision of parking, restrooms, on-site boat storage, on-site equipment concessions, and non-profit boat clubs

Boarding floats and boat launching ramps would be developed and constructed in conformance with the pending federal ADA-ABA Accessible Guidelines for recreational boating facilities. There are existing guidelines for many types of amenities that may be constructed at a launch or destination site, such as parking areas, restrooms, picnic areas, walkways, railings, and more, that would apply to and be implemented for construction of any such amenities.


arrow For more information see the California Coastal Conservancy:

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