From tiny acorns

Councilman, constituent lead charge on tree-planting project in Lower Bidwell Park

City Councilman Andrew Coolidge wants to make sure Lower Bidwell Park’s beloved canopy of trees remains well into the future.

City Councilman Andrew Coolidge wants to make sure Lower Bidwell Park’s beloved canopy of trees remains well into the future.

Photo by Melissa Daugherty

Chico City Councilman Andrew Coolidge stood near the footbridge crossing Big Chico Creek at Sycamore Pool on Tuesday morning (May 23), surveying the area around that much-beloved part of Lower Bidwell Park.

He opened a folder and pulled out copies of recent and older photographs of the area, noting the differences, including the loss of a giant valley oak on the north side of the creek. That approximately 80-year-old tree is one of dozens that have come crashing down at One-Mile Recreation Area in recent years, due either to the years-long drought or the heavy rains and wind that followed this past winter.

Coolidge took notice of the decreasing canopy after hearing about the issue from regular City Council attendee Mat Bacior a few months ago. That prompted a visit to the site for a firsthand look at the problem. Further communication followed.

“We talked about how One-Mile just wasn’t looking so great,” Coolidge said.

In a phone interview, Bacior, who grew up in Chico and recalled spending time at Lower Park as a kid, expressed disappointment in the way the city has maintained it. He noted that there are either very tall trees or a few saplings.

“There’s not much in the middle, which means we haven’t been keeping up with planting over the years,” he said.

His conversations with Coolidge led to an idea for a solution—a plan to plant enough acorns to grow about 100 new trees in the region. Discussions on that front expanded to include folks with Chico Tree Advocates, Butte Environmental Council and eventually city staff. And now, just a few months later, the talks have evolved into a real effort to help replenish the diminishing tree stock.

According to Erik Gustafson, the city’s public works director-operations and maintenance, the project is feasible.

Gustafson said the city has committed to providing certain resources to make it work. That includes identifying the locations to plant the acorns and providing the signage or cages that will protect them. The idea is to find spots where the future trees will flourish naturally, he said. The other key to the project is having a stable of volunteers affiliated with CTA and BEC (the latter organization has a similar, ongoing program to replenish the oak stock in Upper Park) to provide the manpower to plant the acorns.

“The water table is pretty high and there’s great soil, so, as long as they’re planted correctly, hopefully the majority of them take and we’ll have beautiful trees in the future,” he said.

Gustafson noted that summer is not the optimal time to put the nuts in the ground. Acorns rely on the springtime rain to get a good start, he explained, so the effort will pick back up in the late fall and early winter.

In preparation, the city is starting to remove existing debris, including many of the fallen trees that dot the landscape. At last count, between 40 and 50 large trees have come down in Lower and Middle Park in the last year or so, Gustafson said. Crews will begin along South Park Drive and Petersen Memorial Way and then will head toward Woodland and Vallombrosa avenues.

For Bacior, the effort makes total sense. After all, if there’s one thing in Chico that pretty much everyone can get behind, it’s a plan to preserve Bidwell Park. Indeed, when the concept was brought before the City Council last week (May 16), it was given a unanimous thumbs up (a 6-to-0 vote, with one council member absent).

Based on the volume of park-goers on Tuesday morning, that enthusiasm sounds about right. By 9:30 a.m., some had already taken to the water, as the temperature crept past the 80-degree mark. Others biked, walked or sat under the shade of the giant sycamores and oaks in the surrounding landscape.

As Coolidge looked around at all of the activity, he summed up the plan: “It’s not the giant leap I’d like it to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.”