Open the gate

The city should allow vehicle access to the far reaches of Upper Park

It’s interesting how your worldview changes when you have a loved one with a major disability. Seven years ago, if you’d asked me about the prospect of indefinitely prohibiting vehicular access to the majority of the road inside of Upper Bidwell Park, I likely would have said I was fine with it.

Fast-forward to today, and the fate of that 4-plus-mile roadway is one of the major components of an online survey the Park Division has set up on the city’s website ( It will be live until March 16. Among other things, it asks participants how often they visit Upper Park and what they do while they’re there. Another question asks what could be done to improve the experience.

From my perspective, that’s easy to answer: Open the entirety of Upper Park Road. That’s the thoroughfare that stretches eastward into the far reaches of the park, adjacent to many of the popular places to take a dip in Big Chico Creek (Alligator Hole, Bear Hole, Salmon Hole and Brown’s Hole).

In sorry shape after years of storms and neglect due to budget cuts at the city, much of the unpaved portion of that road has been closed to cars since 2012. The gate is at the Diversion Dam, just under the 2-mile mark.

Ostensibly because the city is now looking at improving that long-ignored infrastructure, staff wants to know what Chicoans think about vehicle access—whether they support it at all and to what extent. From what I’ve seen and heard, many folks want to keep the gate closed.

They want what’s on the other side of that barrier to be accessible only to those on foot, bike or horse. They view those areas of the park as an escape from the city, cars especially. They think of Upper Park as a wild space that ought to be kept wild.

Not surprisingly, all of the folks I know who hold those views are also able-bodied people who can easily hop on a bike or walk to Brown’s Hole.

But not everyone can do that. Indeed, my own son, a beautiful little 6-year-old boy with a serious spinal condition, may never be able to see that area without getting in a car. Ditto for many other Chicoans who’d like to enjoy that public space—environs that for previous generations had been open to everyone thanks to the road.

I knew a few years ago when rumblings about accessibility began that this would be a topic with the potential for strident views on either side. That’s why I assigned a cover story on the subject (see “Road block,” Sept. 22, 2016). Among the things you’ll learn by reading it is that, for the past several decades, the road was closed during the wettest months of the year to prevent it from further deterioration. Additionally, it was closed on Sundays and Mondays.

My point: Maybe there’s a happy medium—where vehicular access is permitted but not every single day.

The city’s survey isn’t subtle when it comes to telling respondents that the cost of improvements—of virtually any kind, including road repairs—are going to have to come from users. “Improving access to Upper Bidwell Park, and maintaining Upper Park Road and other facilities will require additional funding,” a portion of the document reads.

Indeed, part of the questionnaire asks how much money park-goers are willing to shell out. That’s a different subject altogether.