After years of financial struggle and political wrangling, the first phase of the Richmond Greenway officially opened Wednesday with literal bells and whistles.

Celebrators gathered beside to the newly paved bicycle and pedestrian path along a wide, grassy swath of open space that runs from Second Street, through several densely populated Richmond neighborhoods, to 23rd Street.

"One thing all great cities have in common is a trail system like this one that creates opportunities for community activities and recreation," City Manager Bill Lindsay said of the $2.2 million pathway. "This trail is really a very special one that will have significant benefits for Richmond."

After a round of speeches and the assigning of kudos, more than 100 whistle-blowing and bell-ringing students from Nystrom Elementary School rode bicycles and walked through a bright-yellow ribbon to officially open the greenway.

The grand opening was 25 years in the making. The project, frequently bogged down by bureaucratic setbacks, was almost scrapped several times because of grant complications.

But the frustrations were a part of the past Wednesday as celebrators nibbled on cookies and fruit while standing among the colorful wildflowers blooming along the path.

"This is a very important day for us," Public Works Director Rich Davidson said. "We went through a lot to put this project together, and it was worth it.


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Also on hand were Vice Mayor Nat Bates, City Councilman Tom Butt, former Mayor Irma Anderson and a host of greenway advocates, including Benjamin Gettleman, regional manager of the Trails to Rails Conservancy, which raised $2 million for the project.

Many speakers gave Richmond activist Lillie Mae Jones credit for her role as an early advocate. Jones was one of the founders of Community Council for Leadership and Education, or CYCLE, which formed to push for the trail more than 20 years ago.

"It looks OK," said Jones. "It's different from how we first thought it would look, but it's OK."

When completed, the landscaped and paved greenway will run near or through eight Richmond neighborhoods, including the Iron Triangle, Coronado and Park Plaza. It will link with the San Francisco Bay Trail to the west and the Ohlone Greenway to the east.

The first phase, the west section, was built on the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad line. The second phase, which, if all goes well, should be completed by November 2008, will continue from 23rd Street to behind the Target store planned for Macdonald Avenue near 45th Street.

The third and final phase -- the shortest at one-fifth of a mile -- will be the most complicated to complete. City officials will have to negotiate an easement with BART and contend with a retrofit of the elevated BART tracks.

"This project shows that Richmond can do it," Butt said. "If we can prove that we can take care of it, keep it cleaned up and in good condition, then we will have moved forward in a big way."

Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or jgeluardi@cctimes.com.

to learn more

  • City of Richmond: http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/greenway

  • Rails to Trails: http://www.railstotrails.org or 415-397-2220