The trail in Sebastopol goes through neighborhoods and is usually shaded.
Much of the path for the West County Trail was once the route of the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad (P&SR)
. Construction between Sebastopol and Petaluma started in 1904. The railroad used electricity to power its engines and the cars resembled street cars. When the line was expanded in 1905 the line needed to cross an existing line of the California Northwestern Railroad (CNW). When a legal block to prevent P&SR from inserting a crossover failed P&SR was physically prevented from accomplishing the task by CNW workers. Competing crews from both railroads broke out into an open fight that drew a crowd of several hundred resident spectators. The melee came to be known as the The Battle of Sebastopol Road
. Eventually, the crossover was put into place.
Though CNW could not stop the P&SR, economics and a changing economy did. Passenger service was discontinued in 1932, the same year the railroad was taken over by Southern Pacific. Even freight service declined. Over time segments of the line were abandoned, with the last bit being left behind in 1984. In that same year, the Regional Parks Department starting to acquire parts of the railroad right-of-way for use as a trail. Additional private and public entities providing assistance and funds over time to expand the trail to its current length between Sebastopol and Forestville.
The trail along Highway 116 is little more than a sidewalk, but does provide wider views of the surrounding vineyards and orchards.
At the southern end in Sebastopol the trail starts at North Main Street. There is a "connection" with the Joe Rodata Trail
to the southeast but it partly relies on walking along roads. The connection seems tenuous.
There's ample street parking near the trailhead. A nice sign provides a map of the trail and on the back a history of the rail line that used to exist here.
The West County Regional Trail is popular with hikers and cyclists alike.
The path is mostly paved and flat and thus suitable for walkers and cyclists of all abilities. It should also be ADA compliant. Signage seems to indicate that horses are allowed on the trail. Given the paved surface one seems unlikely to see much equine use. The path is quite popular with cyclists.
At the southern start of the trail you may see names painted on the trail surface from time to time. These are names of the streets being crossed or cul-de-sacs abutting the trail. It's a handy way to orient yourself along the trail and certainly a cheaper option to inform trail users than erecting signs.
Bridges and boardwalks ensure trail users can make their way.
In Sebastopol the trail cuts through neighborhoods with trees providing ample shade. Once the trail makes it to Highway 116 its nature changes. It becomes little more than a sidewalk to the often busy road.
Between Sebastopol and Graton along Highway 116 lies Andy's Market. The produce market does a brisk business and it's refreshing how welcoming the establishment is to the trail. A path leads from the trail to the front of the store with signage that seems enticing to walkers and cyclists. There's a nice spot to sit outside and enjoy some coffee, food or drinks purchased here before continuing on your way.
The trail gets its northern start in the town of Forestville.
For various reasons, the entirety of the original rail line could not be turned into a contiguous trail. Disjointed segments have to jog around private property at a couple of roads along the trail's route. The longest segment of this is about 3/4 of a mile along Occidental Road near Graton. Smaller 1/4 mile segments along Ross Road in Graton and Green Valley Road north of it slightly mar the experience, but not too much.
Though mostly paved, there are some sections of trail here and there that are comprised of either hard pack dirt or even boardwalk. Just south of Forestville at Green Valley Road, near a water treatment plant, there are segments of both of these trail surface types.
The trails comes to an abrupt halt in Forestville in the north. There's even a sign that explicitly states it to be "end of trail". Officially the trail dumps out here onto Pajaro Lane to the right. But the parking there is less than ideal. But going past the end of trail sign a more overgrown path continues for about a quarter mile further to Front Street (a.k.a. Highway 116). This takes you to the heart of Forestville and there is ample parking here if you'd like to start you hike from this side.
When the temperature is pleasant and the Sun comes out, so do the people. Don't expect a lot of solitude here on the trail closer into the towns when the weather is nice.