Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Redding! Who Knew?

"It's the most expensive trailhead in the world," said Bob Warren, president of the Redding Convention and Visitors Bureau, as he showed me and a group of travel writers the city's Sundial Bridge a couple of weeks ago. Warren is all smiles today about the $23.2 million span that is the southern point of the Sacramento River Recreation Trail.

But he and others here admit there was some apprehension when the city fathers came up with the idea of asking world famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to design a pedestrian span over the Sacramento River. It was a lot of money to spend on a bridge for a relatively small city (pop. 90,000). And, the design was daring, a walking surface of translucent glass with a 21-story pylon on the north bank of the river that supports the bridge. (Town lore has it that Calatrava was taken by the innocence of the Redding official who called his studio one day and happened to reach the busy architect, who was intrigued by the offer of a relatively obscure northern California town wanting him to design a bridge).

Take a walk today day or night on the Sundial Bridge and there's no doubt the success of the span, which has become not only an landmark for Redding but a hugely popular spot for locals. The bridge brings residents out in the evenings, giving them a place to go. Beyond that it's a piece of striking architecture that, some would say, shows what good design can do for a city. (It also has a function. Because of the exact north-south orientation of the span, the pylon is, in effect, the upright element of the sundial, making it the world's tallest). It's a shame that the adjacent riverside cafe closes in the at dusk because on a recent warm evening all that was needed was a light aperitif or a cup of coffee sipped on its patio and you could have mistaken Redding for a European city as you watched couples and families stroll the bridge.

It's the perfect starting point to a hike, bike or Segway ride on the Sacramento River Trail, which follows an old rail line along the river. There are about nine miles of trails today but more are being added all the time. When completed in a couple of years the trail system will reach all the way to Shasta Dam, 13 miles north. Some of the prettiest parts of the trail are from the Sundial Bridge a couple of miles to the Ribbon Bridge and returning on the other side of the river.

There's much more to recreation around Redding, however. A few miles east is Whiskeytown Lake, which is among the towering Klamath Mountains and includes snow-covered 6,199-foot Shasta-Bally. Part of the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area, the lake has forest-covered shoreline, a sandy beach, many campsites, loads of picnic places, hiking trails and water-related activities, including free (yes, something free courtesy of Uncle Sam!) ranger-led kayak trips twice daily.

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