Petaluma is a bike-friendly community, and the centerpiece of our cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is the Lynch Creek Trail. Spanning nearly the width of the city, the Lynch Creek Trail connects downtown Petaluma with the eastern edge of town.
From Water Street to Prince Park, the trail is the only off-street route for cyclists and walkers to get across the city. Meandering a course that fronts the Petaluma River and the reed-lined Lynch Creek, it provides access to a tranquil bit of nature amid an otherwise chaotic cityscape.
Lately, however, trail users have reported a less-than-tranquil experience along the Lynch Creek Trail, especially west of McDowell Boulevard and under Highway 101. The trail, unfortunately, has become overrun by homeless camps and drug dealers, and associated problems like fights, graffiti and trash. One Petaluma police officer called it “the worst area of town right now.”
Petaluma’s problems with homelessness are not new. Fortunately, we have some first rate nonprofits sheltering people and helping them out of chronic homelessness. Supporting groups like the Committee on the Shelterless will certainly ease the problem citywide.
The homeless population in Petaluma may be spiking due to the housing shortage and a crackdown on camping in Santa Rosa. Or homeless people may seem more visible in the warm summer months when people are outside more. Whatever the reason, nonprofits like COTS are working on a solution.
Other problems along Lynch Creek, including violence and drug dealing, are best left to police. Commendably, the Petaluma Police Department has been very responsive to community complaints about conditions along Lynch Creek.
After groups of residents complained on the social media site Nextdoor, police stepped up patrols in the area, and officers now walk or ride the trail almost everyday. A series of arrests has seemed to have deterred some of the most unseemly characters that operated on the trail. Police continue to meet with concerned neighbors, listening to their concerns and sharing their solutions.
As for the trash that has come to choke the pastoral creek, that is everyone’s problem. Fortunately, the solution is easy. Walkers who frequent the trail could bring a garbage bag and fill it with each trip. For the larger discarded items, like shopping carts, a group called Friends of the Lynch Creek Trail has been organizing creek cleanup days. Look for the group on Nextdoor for the latest meetings, and get involved.
The Friends of the Lynch Creek Trail is expanding their efforts to improve the trail. Advocates have been speaking at public meetings, asking city officials for more resources to better the trail. The latest ask is for pavement on the western stretch of trail to replace the cracking asphalt. The next phase is to petition for lights to improve safety after dusk.
The Friends of the Lynch Creek Trail is a good example of a grassroots organization that has formed to tackle a specific problem in Petaluma. The more support they have and the more noise they make, the more resources will be dedicated to the trail. Support this group so that Lynch Creek Trail can become “the best area of town right now.”