High hopes

Local environmental groups look to Annie B’s drive for help in tough economic times

Big Chico Creek watershed coordinator Nani Teves enjoys Big Chico Creek in a recently restored area in Lower Bidwell Park.

Big Chico Creek watershed coordinator Nani Teves enjoys Big Chico Creek in a recently restored area in Lower Bidwell Park.

Photo By Claire Hutkins Seda

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For a complete list of environmental nonprofits participating in the Annie B’s Community Drive, go to http://tinyurl.com/anniegreen. Donations accepted through Sept. 30.

“Feels good!” said Nani Teves with a relaxed sigh, as she dipped her toes into Big Chico Creek, next to the Sycamore Restoration Site just behind the Caper Acres playground in Lower Bidwell Park. It was an act that couldn’t have happened last year, when the creek’s banks in this area were overgrown with invasive, nonnative blackberry brambles.

“It feels so wild right here,” Teves continued. “It’s so amazing that we’re just a quarter-mile away from downtown.”

Teves is the watershed coordinator for Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance (BCCWA), a nonprofit focused on the protection of Big Chico Creek, which runs through Bidwell Park. BCCWA manages a number of projects, including its Native Plant Project, which supplied natives such as redbud, box elder and elderberry to the Sycamore Restoration Site after volunteers from the city of Chico’s Parks, Open Spaces, Greenways and Preserves Division, which manages the site, removed the thorny blackberry bushes.

BCCWA and the city’s parks division make up two of the 16 environmentally focused organizations participating in the fifth annual Annie B’s Community Drive, sponsored by the North Valley Community Foundation (NVCF). Both groups, along with the nonprofit Friends of Bidwell Park, another participating organization, have felt the pinch of the economic downturn, and are struggling to raise enough money to continue restoration work in Bidwell Park.

“Lots of boards of directors are having the same discussion,” offered Teves. “How can we keep doing what we want to do, and keep it quality, with no money?” She noted that BCCWA, which seeks to protect and enhance the ecological integrity and economic vitality of the Big Chico Creek watershed, is currently unfunded.

“We have a little chunk of savings that we’re living off of, just to keep our doors open at this point,” Teves said. “[Locals] swim in [Big Chico Creek] every week, but they don’t necessarily know where [the water] comes from and how to take care of it.”

Teves hopes that, through the Annie B’s drive, those who value the park will step up and fill the monetary void. Each year, Annie B’s distributes thousands of dollars donated by the public, plus an additional percentage from NVCF and its philanthropic sponsors, to nonprofits and charitable causes across Butte, Colusa, Glenn and Tehama counties.

Teves is not alone in hoping that Annie B’s will be a key contributor to the budget. Almost 100 percent of Friends of Bidwell Park’s (FOBP) funding is provided by donations received through Annie B’s. Susan Mason, board secretary and co-founder of FOBP, expressed high hopes recently while picking up candy wrappers and other snack litter in Caper Acres.

“We’re hoping we’ll get a lot more funding [this year compared to last], because we really want to get this internship program going,” said Mason. The new program involving Chico State interns, launched at the beginning of this year, benefits the park through diverse projects, from mapping the park’s culverts and evaluating their condition, to identifying strategic community partners in order to increase funding for restoration.

FOBP, as a result of the economic downturn, finds its services in Bidwell Park even more in demand, as the city of Chico feels increasing budgetary strain.

“Each year, we’ve cut our budget by up to 7 percent over the past several years,” noted Lise Smith-Peters, management analyst for the parks division, adding, “We are functioning with less staff, which makes the volunteer program even more important.”

Through Annie B’s, the public can also contribute directly to the parks division (listed as “Bidwell Park, City of Chico” on the Annie B’s donation site), even though it’s not a nonprofit. Donations will help fund habitat-restoration efforts, including a stipend for the park’s intern, who leads weekly volunteer restoration sessions.

Just six city workers maintain Bidwell Park—Upper and Lower—as well as the city’s other greenways such as Lindo Channel and Little Chico Creek.

“People use the park, and they have no idea how it’s paid for. I think if they knew, they probably would donate,” said Mason. “Think about how many people…use the park, and don’t do anything for the park. I think they just haven’t thought about it, they think there’s plenty of money for it. They have no idea…”

State bonds and other state-provided funding, instrumental in paying for restoration and environmental education in the park, has disappeared, said Mason. And the funding that is provided is not guaranteed. “We’re not exactly sure how much the state is going to take from us,” Smith-Peters said. “And they continue taking more. That’s reality.”

Other sources of income for environmental nonprofits, such as environmentally focused private grants, are also in shorter supply as grants are cut and the competition for remaining funds gets fierce.

Now, some nonprofits are pinning their hopes on Annie B’s. Historically, the BCCWA has depended primarily on state, federal and local grants, with individual donations making up a small percentage of total funding. “But now as grants are becoming less available and more and more competitive, we will be depending more on the support of the community who values the work we do,” Teves said.

Evidently, other environmental nonprofits agree. Last year, just six environmental nonprofits participated in Annie B’s. This year, sixteen of the 236 listed organizations define themselves as “environmental.” At least five—including Chico Creek Nature Center and California Urban Streams Alliance (“The Stream Team”)—work directly in Bidwell Park.

“The state is doing less, and it’s the job of nonprofits and cities” to pick up the costs of maintaining the creek and wild parkland that the public enjoys, said Teves. “You get what you pay for, and no one’s paying for it anymore.”