This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.
For the past forty years, virtually every time Sonoma County’s environment or public access has been threatened, Bill Kortum has been there fighting for the earth and for your rights. When PG&E started building a nuclear power plant atop the San Andreas fault on Bodega Head in the early 1960s, no environmental movement was fighting local issues. Bill Kortum joined with a coalition to scuttle the project. In the mid 60s he worked to establish Salt Point State Park, now the largest natural area protected on the Sonoma coast.
In 1968 Bill Kortum and other Sonoma County activists founded COAST, Citizens Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands, to fight plans for the Sea Ranch development which tried to close ten miles of the coast to public access. See Section – feature for that story. His Sea Ranch experience led Bill to become the chair of a coalition of 105 organizations to put Proposition 20, the Coastal Protection Initiative, on the 1972 California ballot. They fought to get it passed, despite intense opposition and spending from development interests, and won. The Coastal Initiative affirmed the public’s right to coastal access and established the Coastal Commission.
In 1976 Kortum won a seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, making an environmentalist majority. Because the new supervisors made land use decisions based on ecology, conservation and controlled growth, several groups launched a recall campaign. The environmental majority was removed from office in one of the county’s most disastrous episodes for the environment.
Still, Kortum continued his selfless service to the county. In 1982 he dreamed up the idea of Coastwalk, thereby launching a long-term commitment to establishing the California Coastal Trail. When Coastwalk planned the CCT Whole Hike of 1996, Bill Kortum not only helped it happen, he went along, walking 450 miles from Oregon to San Francisco and celebrating his 69th birthday on the trek. As we walked, Bill was there encouraging Richard and Bob to write this book.
Bill Kortum has been active in public transit issues and in deciding how Santa Rosa and other cities should dispose of wastewater. His influence, based on honesty, principles, and well thought ideas, has been enormous. Without his work, and that of many others in COAST, our coastline would be crowded with development and access would be negligible. He’s earned the title “Dean of Sonoma County environmentalists.”
So after State Parks established a trail across the dramatic headlands south of the Russian River from Blind Beach to Wrights Beach, they named the path for lifetime Sonoma County resident and environmental legend, Bill Kortum, honoring the man who has helped save so much of the Sonoma County and California coast for public access.—
Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols