On the trail
Volunteer groups team up to help city delineate official paths in Upper Bidwell Park
On a recent Saturday, over 50 volunteers made their way through Upper Bidwell Park to clean up the trails that surround Chico’s most iconic primate: Monkey Face. Thad Walker, hiking near the base of the hill, surveyed the scene.
“It’s tough here,” he said, referencing the brown hillside beside him. The recent intense rain had loosened soil around Monkey Face, he explained, causing deep scars in the terrain. A quick glance at the hill revealed large brown streaks of dirt that plants seemed to avoid. Walker said the erosion likely was the result of climbers leaving the marked path. The volunteers laid down large seed nets, along with rocks and logs to keep them in place, to discourage any more off-trail excursions.
Walker, an avid mountain biker, helped organize the outing for National Trails Day—an American Hiking Society celebration that has been held on the first Saturday of June since 1993—through Chico Velo Trailworks, an offshoot of Chico Velo Cycling Club. Along with his group, the event attracted members of the Friends of Bidwell Park, the Mount Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, California Conservation Corps and two missionaries from the Church of Latter-day Saints. They laid down seed, replaced fences and created barriers in an effort to maintain the Monkey Face trail.
Farther down the hill, near Horseshoe Lake, Shane Romain, park services coordinator for the city, said the event was a necessity.
“The city is in a rebuilding phase,” said Romain, who acts as a liaison between the city and volunteer groups like those out that day. “The community has made it very clear to the council that public safety is the first priority. So a lot of funding has gone to police and fire to get them fully staffed. Just moving on into the future, we are hoping to get some more park staff.”
Three years ago, on the heels of the Great Recession, the city was so financially strapped that it laid off dozens of employees and cut budgets for most departments. That included the Parks Department and the workers responsible for caring for the 3,670-acre Bidwell Park. Currently, the department’s small staff devotes most of its time to keeping the park running, rather than on regular maintenance. There currently is no plan to increase staff or budget for the park, the city confirmed.
Walker said he understood that the city is understaffed and underfunded. Using Monkey Face as an example, he explained that lack of funding, education and signage over the years has led to wandering hikers decimating the hillside with rogue trails, which exacerbate erosion and kill plant life.
When Walker and his wife, Jenna, first moved to Chico in 2013, they went out in search of a mountain-biking or trail-advocacy group but found none. Both are outdoor enthusiasts—Walker works as a cycling coach and Jenna is coordinator for Chico State’s Adventure Outings program—and they recognized that Bidwell Park was special. They wanted to take advantage of its beauty and unique terrain while still protecting its natural resources, so Walker started Chico Velo Trailworks.
“To have trail access this close to the community, to have this many trails and the type of trails we have, is really incredible,” he said.
Having volunteers work together with the park staff will accomplish more, he said, than trying to demand more money from the Chico City Council to care for the park.
“It would be great, and the park definitely needs resources, but there are so many things in our community that do,” Walker said. “We are just trying to leverage the community aspect of it, give back and create opportunity.”
The plan is to put in additional signage and increase community involvement to help keep hikers on the beaten path. If community members become a part of maintaining the park, Walker said, they will be more likely to speak up if they see others wandering off the path.
“It’s not always the user’s fault, because there are things that are not well-marked,” he said. “That is purely a function of [the park] not having the proper signage out. That’s one of the things we are working on.”
By bringing the community into the fray, Walker hopes people will see the park more as their own, work to preserve it and ease the workload on city staff.
“Our group is about partnering—partnering with the city, and other community groups,” Walker said. “We are definitely the new kids on the block when it comes to groups, and we have so many groups in Chico that have a strong legacy of advocacy.”
Bidwell Park is a Chico staple, Romain added, and people travel from far and wide to hike its trails. He said the recent event proved the community knows and appreciates that, too.
“We have thousands of visitors come here every year,” he said. “A lot of times this is the first introduction to Chico for freshmen going to Chico State or graduates wanting to show their family a neat feature of Upper Bidwell Park.
“It’s one of our namesake landmarks. And for the community to come out and get together and take ownership of it and take part of the rehabilitation is a wonderful thing.”