Avid cyclists have long envisioned a Kern River Bike Trail that would one day stretch from the mouth of the Kern River Canyon to the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area.
Now it seems the western end of that dream could become a reality.
Samuel Lux, a professional engineer and assistant director of the administration and engineering division for the county of Kern, has been working for some time on devising a workable path and acquiring right of way for just such an extension.
There are still some hurdles to get over, Lux said, but he's optimistic that the "Western Extension," as it is known, will ultimately be built.
"I feel confident we can get this through and done within the (time) extension I'm asking for," he said.
The 12-month extension into the 2019-20 fiscal year would have to be granted by the state's Active Transportation Program, created in 2017 to encourage increased use of active modes of transportation, such as walking and biking.
The goals of the ATP include increasing the portion of trips accomplished by walking and biking, increasing the safety and mobility of non-motorized users, advancing efforts to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals, enhancing public health, and more.
So the trail extension seems consistent with the goals of the ATP.
The plan as it now stands is pretty simple. The trail, which currently ends at a parking area at Enos Lane, would turn south and follow Enos Lane, or Highway 43, about six miles to Lake Webb and the recreation area.
"It would be a Class I trail, not a Class II," Lux said.
It means that while it will basically follow the two-lane highway, there will be a separation, a space, between the highway's shoulder and the bike path.
"We estimate the project construction costs to be approximately $3.8 million," he said.
Avid cyclist Pete Wollesen, who has lived in Bakersfield for some 35 years, loves the idea of a longer bike trail.
"Oh boy, that would be awesome," he said. "I ride out to Enos on a regular basis, and I sure wish there was somewhere else to go once you get there besides turning around and going home.
"I ride nearly every day, including a daily commute to work, so I’m used to riding in traffic. I will tell you that the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had on a bicycle was riding on Enos Lane with semis and RVs hauling trailers whizzing by at 60 mph only inches away from my shoulder."
A separated paved trail would make a significant difference.
"Even a shoulder wider than the road stripe would be welcome," he said. "In some areas that’s all the room I had."
In a report released in early 2018, the Kern County grand jury's Administration, Audit and County Services Committee urged the Kern County Public Works Department to continue to apply for grants to help expand the network of bicycle lanes and pathways in and around Bakersfield.
Over the past 10 years, the grand jury wrote, the county has spent $46.4 million on pedestrian and bike paths in the county — but more are needed.
Longtime Bakersfield residents Bill Cooper and Rich O'Neil were instrumental in the development of the bike trail and the Kern River Parkway, the latter which officially extends along the river from Manor Street to the Stockdale Highway bridge near the Park at RiverWalk.
Cooper attended a scoping meeting when the project was proposed and argued for a route along the Cross Valley Canal to the Farmer's Bridge over I-5 and then on to the community of Tupman, an extremely underserved area, he said.
From Tupman, he suggested the bike path could have followed the California Aqueduct south to the Buena Vista recreation area.
"We were kind of over-ridden on that," he said.
But like Wollesen and many others, he views the extension of the bike trail as progress.