People of the park

A colorful cast of characters enjoying Chico’s favorite green space

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Summertime and Bidwell Park are practically synonymous in Chico, and Lower Park in particular is among the best local outdoor-recreation spots. This time of year, people engage in all sorts of activities in this busy section of the park. Many flock to the shady lawns at One-Mile Recreation Area for respite from the sweltering heat. Others take a dip in the Sycamore Pool or head farther up into Big Chico Creek.

Some head there to connect with friends and, in many cases, end up making new friends altogether.

Indeed, part of the charm of spending time at Lower Park is watching how others enjoy the space, and you never know what you’re going to see. Head there in the morning and you may witness a group of moms working out with babies in tow. Get there in the afternoon and you may see local musicians in a jam circle. Here’s a look, through the lens of CN&R contributing photographer Melanie MacTavish, at the people who make the park such a vibrant space.

Trampball Improv group meets regularly in the park. Kenny Kelly started it a couple of months ago simply because he couldn’t find a theater-improv group in town. The turnout varies from two to eight people, depending on the day. The first day Trampball’s members met at the park, they watched another group play a game involving bouncing balls off of small trampolines. The name Trampball was thus formed not only for that game, but also for the improv group. “Doing improv in a theater can seem kind of stuffy at times, and there’s a lot of stimuli here. Being outdoors can give you a little more inspiration,” said Kelly (far right), who was joined by Ulyses Dorantes (center) and Josh Jacobs on this day.

Gianna Noonan experiences the park from a more elevated perspective—on horseback. Noonan was riding Bella, and was accompanied by a friend named Marianne Govan (not pictured) riding another horse (also named Bella). The women had come to relax and chat in the beauty of the park after a busy week of running a horse camp for kids. “We finally get to ride,” Govan said.

Having come all the way down from Paradise one morning, John Wilson seats himself on a bench and plays a handmade cigar-box guitar. “It’s quiet here and it’s a really nice bench. I noticed that it’s dedicated to an old friend of mine, Annie August,” he said. Wilson has made about 30 of these guitars and would like to sell them, but said, “I can’t sell a dime for a nickel.”

Early on a Sunday morning, Kevin Daniel uses his new underwater metal detector to search for sunken treasure in Sycamore Pool. Daniel snorkeled a lot in Hawaii while he was in the military, but this was his first time exploring One-Mile’s pool. His hope was to find at least enough treasure to pay for his new metal detector.

Paige Martin takes her boyfriend, Cameron Fredrickson, around One-Mile on her grandfather’s custom-built bike. The couple slowly cruised along the narrow path while her family picnicked nearby. Martin’s grandfather has been building custom bikes for more than 20 years. She’s taken the bikes to Lower Park a number of times, but this was Fredrickson’s first outing on one of them.

Rachel Davis and sons Jack, 5, and Eric, 2, enjoy Caper Acres, especially the iconic sandbox watched over by Humpty Dumpty. The Davises come from across town this time of year to play at Lower Park. “It’s a great park in the summer, because it stays cool and shaded,” Davis said.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeffery Cassady holds some of his Future Soldier Training sessions at Lower Park. He said the jogging trails and open fields provide the ideal environment for the intense workouts designed to prepare recent enlistees for basic training. Above, Cassady instructs Pvt. Kayla Stancik and Pvt. Theo Lawrence on push-ups. Opposite, Pvt. Stancik picks up Pvt. Mel Stagno in a drill known as “the fireman’s carry.” Cassady noted that holding the workouts at the park introduces the Army to civilians in a new way. “Most people are really friendly,” he said of onlookers.

Jack Knight (left) and Russell Rabut meet Justin Wood (not pictured) for kayak lessons in Sycamore Pool. Wood is an experienced kayaker who helped them improve their technique before going out on rivers. Sycamore Pool is ideal for practicing, because it’s a controlled environment that also has a lot of room to maneuver.

Lifeguard Juliette Retornaz watches over Sycamore Pool. This is her second year as a lifeguard, but her first year working at this location. Retornaz said she appreciates the openness of the park. She enjoys having a strictly summer job because, during the rest of the year, she’s busy working on a pre-nursing degree.