Construction of the Santa Ana River Trail, the longest multi-use trail in Southern California, has come to a halt due to the discovery of an endangered bird. The finding was made during the project's third phase in San Bernardino County, where crews discovered a Least Bell's Vireo nesting within the project's boundaries.
Least Bell's Vireo is an endangered bird species in California and has been protected by the state since 1980. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, these birds breed in Southern California from mid-March to early April and usually stay in their breeding grounds until late September. They may leave as early as the end of July.
Work on the 3.8-mile Santa Ana River Trail began on Jan. 30, 2023, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Redlands. This multi-use trail will be a part of a 110-mile project that will connect Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties. The trail will serve hikers, bikers, and even equestrians from the San Bernardino County National Forest to the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach.
Due to the finding of the Least Bell's Vireo, the Santa Ana River portion's completion, which was initially scheduled for this August, will be delayed. In July/August, the area will need to be surveyed to determine a possible timeline reassessment. Public Works and the construction company will then decide whether construction can proceed, depending on the results. Otherwise, the project will be delayed throughout the breeding season, which ends in September, when the birds are expected to migrate. As a result of this delay, the trial's Phase III segment will not be completed until at least February 2024.
The San Bernardino County Department of Regional Parks and the Department of Public Works are collaborating on the project. The funding for Phase III comes primarily from two sources, with $6.9 million in state Proposition 84 funds from the California Coastal Conservancy and $1.1 million in federal Active Transportation Program grant funds.
Implications of the Delay
The discovery of the endangered bird will likely have a significant impact on the completion timeline for the Santa Ana River Trail project. The delay is expected to push the completion date for the trail's Phase III segment from August 2023 to at least February 2024.
The delay may also result in additional costs, including the need for surveys and possible alterations to the project design to avoid disturbing the bird's habitat. These costs will likely impact the project's overall budget, as well as the timeline.
Furthermore, the delay in the project's completion may impact the communities that were looking forward to using the trail for recreational purposes. The Santa Ana River Trail will provide an essential connection for hikers, bikers, and equestrians, offering an opportunity for exercise and outdoor recreation. The delay will disappoint those who were eagerly anticipating the trail's opening and may cause them to look for other recreational opportunities, impacting the trail's long-term usage.
The discovery of an endangered bird nesting within the Santa Ana River Trail's construction boundaries has halted the project's progress. The Least Bell's Vireo is a state-protected species that is known to breed in Southern California from mid-March to early April, and this delay may have significant implications for the project's timeline and budget. Despite these challenges, the San Bernardino County Department of Regional Parks and the Department of Public Works remain committed to completing this essential multi-use trail, which will serve communities across Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.