Remembering the Five-Mile pool

A former city manager thinks it should be restored

Dale and Esther Brown have been married for 40 years and have lived in Chico since 1989. Like many Chicoans, they vividly remember taking their children to swim at the Five-Mile Recreation Area, when it had a swimming pool similar to the Sycamore Pool at One-Mile.

One of the best things about it was that it allowed for both deep-pool swimming and creekside wading.

“The kids would find a lot of frogs and crayfish [at Five-Mile],” Esther Brown said. “They’d take their innertubes. It was kind of like Tom Sawyer.”

As they sat in their living room on a recent Friday evening, the Browns wondered why the Five-Mile pool had been discontinued and whether it could be restored.

The Browns aren’t the only Chicoans who remember the Five-Mile swimming pool as a popular recreation area and wonder what it would take to restore it. No less a personage than former longtime City Manager Fred Davis has raised the issue publicly, in his blog “Debunking the Bunk,” at

“What happened to the Five-Mile swimming pool in Bidwell Park?” he asks.

Davis notes that the city spent “a great deal” of city and grants frunds to construct bathrooms, picnic and barbecue facilities and a parking lot as well as the pool, but “it just seemed to disappear overnight.”

What Davis doesn’t mention is that the pool was built on his watch and closed down in 1992, right after he retired.

The city created the pool each spring by building a gravel dam to keep water from going into Lindo Channel. An adjustable weir already existed to control the amount of water let into Big Chico Creek. Total cost of the pool, including lifeguards, was around $20,000 per year.

Supervising Park Ranger Bob Donohue said that several pieces of heavy machinery were used to bulldoze gravel and dirt in order to create the dam—and therein lay the problem. “The closure occurred because the Department of Water Resources, the Department of Fish and Game, all those people started getting a little upset that we were disturbing creekbeds.”

The DFG and the DWR have control of the waterways, and the city had to get permits from them annually in order to construct the dam, Donohue explained. As time went on, studies and research started to show that the dam construction and dismantling processes were detrimental to fish.

Combined with the cost, that was enough to kill the pool. “We came to a mutual agreement that we didn’t want to put that kind of expense out anymore, and they didn’t want us disturbing their creekbeds,” Donohue said.

Minutes of Bidwell Park and Playground Commission meetings tell the tale. Those of a public hearing held on Feb. 25, 1991, show city staff requesting that, due to environmental concerns and the $11,000 cost associated with building and removing the dam each year, Five-Mile be “a picnic/wading area, as opposed to creating a relatively small swimming area.”

Other minutes discuss the negative impacts of siltation and increased turbidity on Big Chico Creek and Lindo Channel, as well as contamination from heavy-equipment fluids entering the stream.

Turbidity causes silt, fine sand or the like to settle in stream beds and oftentimes cover spawning gravel, hurting salmon’s ability to spawn.

Bringing back the Five-Mile gravel dam would prevent spring-run chinook salmon in Lindo Channel from going upstream. Besides, because the creek gets such low flows in the summer, it would be hard to keep the pool open and full. It would also require a streambed alteration permit, and the city would have to go through The Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies.

Davis is convinced the city is being overly cautious and that a pool at Five-Mile is both practical and needed.

“One of the things that bothers me more than anything is that we deny the public a lot of things ‘cause we’re worried about the liability,” he said. “We can close down One-Mile, and the deer pens, and the nature center and have less liability, but it’s a joke to say there’s not going to be any liability.

“We’re a very low-income city. If you go out to One-Mile you’ll find most of the people there are low-income, can’t afford a swimming pool. Five-Mile was the same way.”