It wasn’t long ago that Fort Bragg was a parenthetical, a poor stepchild to the tourist-friendly wonderland of nearby Mendocino.
When I was growing up in this gritty mill town, the biggest draws were a former seaside garbage dump called Glass Beach and the Skunk Train, a one-time log-haul railroad.
Locals like me loved the area anyway—loved it for the spectacular rivers and forests, the beaches and trails. But even we could see that the town itself was less than welcoming.
Recently, though, Fort Bragg has embraced what has always been its ace in the hole—the irresistible oceanside setting—and shed its old company-town identity.
The massive lumber mill that sat smack-dab between downtown and the Pacific has been ripped down to reveal wide ocean views. An old train trestle has become a grand pedestrian bridge to the spectacular coastline. And new shops, restaurants, and galleries keep popping up downtown.
Welcome to the new Fort Bragg, not at all what you might remember.
Then: Industry came first, nature second.
Now: The lumber mill came down in the 1990s, setting off a chain of events that has reconnected the town to its coastline.
Last year, the Pudding Creek Trestle was reopened with much ado. The redwood rail bridge was once part of the log-haul route that transported timber to Fort Bragg’s mill. Today the towering 1916 structure has been reimagined as an elegant pedestrian and bike bridge.
Now walkers, runners, and cyclists can get all the way from town to MacKerricher State Park, 3 miles north, using not the highway but a quiet route that takes in undeveloped headlands, beaches, tidepools, and sand dunes.
Next up? A 3.5-mile oceanfront trail on the old mill land, expected to be ready for hiking by 2012.
Next: Downtown facelift