Parks and recreation

Comanche Creek improvement plan moves forward

Associate planner Meredith Williams (left) and Chicoan Emily Alma stand in the shade provided by the canopy of trees surrounding an old railroad right-of-way that may someday serve as a paved bicycle path in a city-owned property near Comanche Creek

Associate planner Meredith Williams (left) and Chicoan Emily Alma stand in the shade provided by the canopy of trees surrounding an old railroad right-of-way that may someday serve as a paved bicycle path in a city-owned property near Comanche Creek

Photo By melissa daugherty

On a recent morning, Emily Alma hopped on her bicycle and rode from her home on Estes Road, on the north side of Comanche Creek, to an area adjacent to the Hegan Lane Business Park, on the south side of the creek.

As the crow flies, the two sites were only a few hundred yards apart. But they’re separated by a city-owned stretch of Comanche Creek into which there is not ready access, other than foot trails. As a result Alma had to ride all the way to South Park Avenue and then double back.

Alma headed to a spot near Otterson Drive to meet with this reporter and Meredith Williams, an associate planner with the city of Chico, who in March took over as project manager of a plan to transform the creekside property into what she described as a non-intensive recreational area, including a feature that will shorten Alma’s trip from one side of the creek to the other.

“We’re not looking at a highly developed park,” Williams said. “It’s a place people can enjoy nature.”

Comanche Creek is sometimes referred to as Edgar Slough. In addition to being fed by run-off from the Chico urban area, the waterway receives drainage from Doe Mill Ridge as well as water from the Parrott-Phelan agricultural diversion on Butte Creek. The area is a rich riparian region, and home to many native animal and plant species, including heritage oak trees.

For now, though, the partially fenced-in property is overrun with vegetation, including invasive Himalayan blackberry. As Williams had noted while walking through patches of star thistle toward the creek, the site is virtually untouched.

“All we really do is come through and kill weeds,” she said.

Days earlier, Williams and other city staff had held a public meeting to unveil the vision for the approximately 20-acre undeveloped site in its draft version of the Comanche Creek Improvement Plan. She went on to describe that vision, pointing to a map of the region that included potential changes designed to allow for pedestrian and bicycle access that will benefit the surrounding neighborhoods and the business park, as well as the community in general.

The plan includes unpaved all-weather trails suitable for both walking and biking, one leading from the Midway on the south side of the creek to an old railroad right-of-way that runs through the property and could potentially serve as a paved bicycle path. Another all-weather trail would begin where the property meets East Park Avenue, paralleling the creek on its north side and eventually connecting with Valine Lane, a dead-end road off of Meyers Street.

One of the most exciting features of the plan is for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge linking Ivy Street to a planned paved path that connects to Otterson Drive, which, in addition to the entrance near East Park Avenue, includes a vehicle parking area.

For Alma, who has long advocated for improvements at the site, the plan is the resulting vision of many local stakeholders who worked closely with city staff for more than two years on its development.

Williams concurred, noting that the panel known as the Southwest Neighborhood Creeks, Parks & Open Space Action Group is composed of nearby residents, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts and people who work in the adjacent business park, among others.

In a phone interview, Shawn Tillman, a senior planner with the city, explained how the creeks group was one of several formed during work on what’s known as the Southwest Chico Neighborhood Plan. Adopted in 2008, that plan established a vision for the hundreds of acres bounded by Ninth Street to the north, the railroad tracks to the west, Comanche Creek to the south and Mulberry/Fair streets to the east.

Tillman said one of the top priorities the group identified was to create a plan for passive uses at Comanche Creek. Members set to work shortly thereafter on the project, along with another plan for a separate site along Little Chico Creek.

The work was not without controversy, because those who comprise the group have divergent ideas centering around one particular issue—the potential construction of a vehicle bridge linking East Park Avenue to the business park. A decade ago the City Council approved the so-called Otterson Drive extension—a roadway and bridge on the property—but opponents halted the project through a referendum process.

Now, Tillman said, members the creeks group are still talking about a bridge, but he noted that they focused on the passive improvements and that the resulting vision was a group effort.

“It’s not just one interest; it’s everybody,” he said.

The plan does not preclude the potential for a vehicle bridge (now called the West Park Avenue extension) being constructed at some point. It is included as an option in the city’s recently adopted general plan.

Public comments on the draft Comanche Creek Improvement Plan will be accepted until next Friday (Aug. 12). Williams said the plan should head to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission sometime in early fall. That panel will make a recommendation to the City Council for adoption.

Final costs and as well as funding sources for the improvements have not been identified, but Williams said she’s confident the project will receive support. She pointed out that it will connect residents to nature and jobs and reduce vehicular travel, attributes that should attract grant funding.

“It’s a very positive, sustainable project,” she summed up.