From Bay to Ridge, Janet McBride Blazes New Trails

July 21, 2011

Janet McBride has spent the past 13 years championing the two region-wide trails that encircle the Bay Area, making her one of our great unsung heroes of human-powered outdoor recreation. From 1998-2004 she was the Project Manager of the San Francisco Bay Trail Project, a 500-mile route around the shoreline of the Bay that has provided unparalleled recreational access to this iconic feature of our region. In 2006, she migrated uphill to become Executive Director of the nonprofit Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, which has been working since 1989 to create an accessible 550+ mile circuit around the region, opening up access to many of our spectacular ridgelines and valleys. Over 330 miles of Ridge Trail are currently open to the public.

BN: When did you come to the Bay Area and what first brought you here? 

JM: I grew up in Southern California, moved north to attend UC Davis and was drawn to the Bay Area back then, but it took me a while to get here. I landed my first professional job in Sacramento, then went to graduate school in Chicago – and finally moved to Berkeley in 1990. I’ve happily stayed in the East Bay since then. I enjoy the landscape, the climate, the Bay (of course!), the gastronomic variety and the great people. There are many beautiful places in the world – but I feel very fortunate to live in this beautiful place.

BN: When and how did you get involved with the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council?

JM: Before joining the Council I had worked as a planner in both the private and public sectors-the Bay Trail was a project of the Association of Bay Area Governments- but was interested in working for a nonprofit. At the same time, I had found the work on the Bay Trail tremendously satisfying, so I was interested in working on another long-distance trail.

BN: So what is it that interests you about these regional trails?

JM: Long-distance trails require both inspiration and perspiration. The concept, the idea, is so powerful and captivating, but then it takes decades of dedicated, persistent effort to bring them to fruition. We are fortunate to have these two awesome regional trails forming concentric circles around the iconic Bay, with connector trails forming spokes between the two. And it has been interesting to work on both and be able to compare and contrast similar visionary concepts, yet with quite different organizational structures-the Bay Trail is supported by a government agency while the Ridge Trail is a more traditional volunteer-led nonprofit-and different challenges-one more urban, the other typically more remote and natural.

BN: What are you are working on these days?

JM: We recently updated our Strategic Plan for the Ridge Trail and spent time thinking about how to move forward with our most challenging long-term “gaps” in the trail. Most often, our focus is on how to expedite opening new miles of trail: How many miles can we open this year? In the next 5 years? And so long-term challenges, where progress is so slow, can take a back seat to more time-sensitive demands. Yet to fulfill our vision of a Ridge Trail that truly encircles the Bay, we need to create a continuous path, which will include routing across agricultural lands, ranch roads, or other private lands. So it was a good exercise to shift gears and think about what we’re calling the “last 100 miles”.

BN: What do you like most about the work you are doing?

JM: The Ridge Trail is a legacy project – a continuous path connecting people, parks and open spaces for future generations. We still have a ways to go before it’s complete, but over 330 miles are open and ready to enjoy today. Each new trail opening is something to celebrate. And nothing beats the pleasure of seeing people out enjoying the trail. For example, we host a supported “Ridge to Bridge” trail event in Marin and people hike or ride as much as 30 miles one way in a day. Folks arrive at the Golden Gate finish line exhausted, but exhilarated by the experience they’ve shared.

BN: Who or what in the Bay Area inspires you these days?

JM: The spectacular physical beauty of the Bay Area is endlessly inspiring. I am also inspired by the volunteers who envisioned a connected ridgeline trail, pored over maps of possible routes, participated in countless meetings and hearings, and continue to show up and lend their time, talent and treasure. The Ridge Trail exists because of volunteers. 

BN: What’s your favorite place to go in nature in the Bay Area?

JM: It’s almost like asking me to choose a favorite among my children … but I am partial to trails with views of water and also “window views” of the San Francisco skyline peeking out between peaks. My favorite hike is a Marin loop from Pantoll on Mount Tam down to Stinson Beach and back up the Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails. 

To learn more about Janet’s work, visit the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council.

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