What’s the Story With the Westside Rail Trail Landscaping?

Have you seen the trees?

Many people who enjoy the westside trail comment about the lack of vegetation.  Never fear, it is coming!  Look closer and you may notice newly planted saplings and seeds sprouting along Segment 7. We reached out to Travis Beck, the Superintendent of Parks, to find out about the plan. 

Designed to reflect the industrial and rural feel of this portion of the Rail Trail (Natural Bridges to Bay Street), a joint team of City Parks staff and Lone Star Landscape planted a significant number of large trees alongside various sections of this segment. Travis pointed out that all the new plantings are California natives. Each species has been carefully chosen and planted according to tolerance for the natural conditions at each location – whether the site is wet, shady, or blasted with sun. There is no additional irrigation along the Rail Trail, so all of these plants will need to thrive with only natural precipitation. 

Heading east from Natural Bridges and crossing Swift, we can notice a new grove of Monterey Cypress trees, chosen to complement existing trees along the trail. Alongside the wettest area of the trail, just south of Almar Avenue, Big Leaf Maples – which may reach up to 50 feet tall, along with Boxelder, another fast growing native maple, will rise up. As the weather warms, keep an eye out for the buckeye shrubs with gorgeous (and fragrant!) white flowers. And that triangular space between Rankin Street and Almar is reserved for a pocket park sometime in the future.



The green powdery material covering the soil contains seeds for low-growing native grasses and wildflowers. Travis said that ideally it is put down a bit earlier in the season; let’s hope for enough rain in the next few weeks to enable the seeds to sprout. If necessary, the Santa Cruz Parks & Rec team may do a second round of seeding in the fall.

Slopes, swales and stabilization

In addition to the trees and shrubs, you will likely notice the large round rocks strategically placed next to the trail. To address variation in slope and help with drainage, the City of Santa Cruz Public Works staff and the project contractor Graniterock Construction installed round river rocks to help stabilize the soils, especially where concentrated water flow is expected to occur. In addition to bracing these swales (the trough-like depressions designed to direct water flow), the rocks slow and help filter the water before it enters the storm drain system. 

The Segment 7 phase 1 landscape design was done by RRM Design Group, with the plantings being directed by Parks & Recreation staff in collaboration with Public Works. As might be expected, the landscaping is one of the last elements to be completed as a Rail Trail segment is built. And because the landscaping is site specific to particular conditions, you will see different plantings in each segment.

Enjoy, but please stay on the trail

Santa Cruzans love their trails and parks! The parks staff requests that we please refrain from guerilla gardening along the trail, but volunteering is encouraged! If you would like to get involved to help care for the rail trail and associated landscape, please contact the City of Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation Department at 831-420-5270.

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