Point of preservation

Commission seeks changes at Peregrine Point, nixes Sycamore Field fence

Woody Elliott, of Friends of Bidwell Park, pictured at hole No. 3 at Peregrine Point disc golf course in Upper Park in 2005, has been concerned about the lack of environmental protection at the course for years.

Woody Elliott, of Friends of Bidwell Park, pictured at hole No. 3 at Peregrine Point disc golf course in Upper Park in 2005, has been concerned about the lack of environmental protection at the course for years.

CN&R file photo

As the nights grow shorter, the sun lingers longer in the sky over Bidwell Park, warming picnicking couples, adventurous disc golfers, and ball players cracking a bat at home plate, sending a softball soaring across Sycamore Field.

That spot in Lower Bidwell Park, in particular, is a pleasant, safe place for many, several Chicoans told the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission on Monday (March 26).

“It’s a gorgeous, important, iconic space,” nearby resident Tom DiGiovanni said. He was echoed by former Vice Mayor Jim Walker, also a former park commissioner, who said it’s becoming harder to find similar open space in the city.

The comments came as the panel tackled two topics that centered around the character and preservation of two locations within the city’s largest park: Sycamore Field and Peregrine Point.

First up were proposed changes to Sycamore Field aimed at improving game play for members of the Chico Senior Softball League, organized by the Chico Area Recreation and Park District.

Some proved noncontroversial, including an extension of the chain-link fence along the first and third baselines and the installation of an electrical outlet for a scoreboard. Others—like the addition of a permanent, 6-foot-tall outfield fence and enclosed, portable restroom—drew more than a dozen public comments in opposition and ended in a 4-0 vote denying the request for the fence and a deadlocked 2-to-2 vote on the restroom (Commissioners Jeffrey Glatz and Aaron Haar recused themselves and Alberto Hernandez was absent).

When it came to Peregrine Point, a popular disc golf and trailhead area, commissioners wanted to know whether Outdoor Recreation Advocacy Inc., aka Chico Outsiders, has complied with its operating agreement with the city, and when plant species would receive better protection. Heavy use and a lack of upkeep on certain fronts have impacted that part of Upper Park to the point that members of local advocacy groups, such as Friends of Bidwell Park, have become concerned.

It’s the lack of progress and protection that concerns Woody Elliott, a retired state parks land manager and treasurer of Friends of Bidwell Park. Not much has changed at Peregrine Point since he last spoke to the CN&R about the issue three years ago (see “Disc-ology,” Newslines, May 28, 2015): “They’re not doing diddly, except talking,” he said Tuesday.

The site has long been controversial. Chico Outsiders, a nonprofit, entered an operating agreement with the city in 2010 to work with city staff to protect native plant species at Peregrine Point and monitor impacts on and near the disc golf course.

The agreement states that the “operator,” Chico Outsiders, will maintain the premises and all disc golf improvements “at its sole cost and expense,” and reimburse the city for data collection costs related to mitigation and monitoring requirements up to $5,000, with that maximum increasing 3 percent per year.

On Jan. 29, the commission received a staff report that concluded that the city and Chico Outsiders needed to better protect trees and plants by installing mulch, delineating/decommissioning trails, creating alternative target/pole locations and installing tee/trail signs. Linda Herman, the city’s park and natural resource manager, attributed the delays to weather, lack of staff resources and equipment challenges.

While presenting an update on plans for the area on Monday, she reported that Chico Outsiders isn’t out of compliance. Rather, the city has not been pulling its weight in protecting the natural environment from wayward discs, foot traffic and weatherization. The city should play a larger role, she argued, especially since Peregrine Point has been impacted by more than just disc golfers, and the city, not Chico Outsiders, is ultimately charged with protecting the region.

“It’s a beautiful area; it’s a well-used area. And it’s hard to pinpoint, other than the trees getting hit with discs, that it’s only disc golfers up there,” Herman said. “We should continue to protect it the best way we can and make sure we are all sharing that responsibility and not just putting it on one user.”

The city’s recommendation, according to Herman, is that Chico Outsiders “continues to monitor and maintain the course to the best of their abilities and resources,” as it has provided about $10,000 more than required for extra studies, half of the construction costs of the 18-hole course and nearly 4,700 volunteer hours since 2011.

Wood chip placement and snake rail fencing should be finished by June, Herman said, and the city is working with a consultant on the trail plan. Herman will provide the commission with an update on the improvements by September. The city will conduct the next five-year review of the operating agreement in 2019.

Though staff says it is going to direct more resources to Peregrine Point, Elliott is skeptical. The department still isn’t fully staffed, and was originally intended to rely upon Chico Outsiders for financial support.

At the meeting, Commissioner Elaina McReynolds expressed a similar sentiment, saying she’s concerned about the timeline.

“I appreciate the city taking ownership, but I also know you guys are short-staffed. It was like a couple years we couldn’t get a drill there,” she said.

Given his background, Elliott, also the conservation chair for the Mt. Lassen chapter of the California Native Plant Society, finds the degradation of the area a “travesty.”

“People don’t appreciate that their very existence is sometimes derogatory to their environment,” he said. “You’ve got to care for your impacts.”