Trail blazers

Chico councilmembers take a long, hot walk in the park

A FAMILY AFFAIR <br>Chico dentist Michael Jones is joined by his daughters Katy (foreground) and Maggie as he leads the hike along the trail route he’s proposed. His wife Caryn and son Johnny also made the trek. The Joneses home school their children.

Chico dentist Michael Jones is joined by his daughters Katy (foreground) and Maggie as he leads the hike along the trail route he’s proposed. His wife Caryn and son Johnny also made the trek. The Joneses home school their children.

Photo by Robert Speer

Your government at work: The four councilmembers on the hike consituted a quorum, so each earned a $15 stipend for taking the five-hour walk.

There was much huffing and puffing at last Friday’s meeting of the Chico City Council, and by the time it was over the councilmembers were sore—but not at each other.

No, they were really sore—from hiking more than five miles in Upper Bidwell Park. They were sweaty and tired, too.

The special meeting had a purpose, to examine some trails proposed for the section of park on the south side of Big Chico Creek that was acquired in 1995. The only way to do that was to hoof it from Ten Mile House Road on the park’s east end, above Brown’s Hole, to the Bidwell Golf Course. That’s a fairly demanding hike on a hot day, which Friday was, and besides about half the hike was off trail through rugged terrain, which made it even tougher.

Still, more than two dozen people did the walk, including four councilmembers, Coleen Jarvis, Dan Herbert, Maureen Kirk and Dan Nguyen-Tan. City Manager Tom Lando came along, as did a number of staffers from the city’s Park Department, as well as several members of the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission.

Also on the hike were Michael and Caryn Jones, the Chico couple whose proposed Annie Bidwell Trail was under consideration. The Joneses, avid hikers and community activists who are working to increase the number of trails along local waterways, have proposed that a single trail named after the wife of Chico’s founder be created running from Bidwell Mansion eastward for the length of Bidwell Park.

Actually, the Joneses have a much larger vision: They’d like the trail to run from the mouth of Big Chico Creek, at the Sacramento River, all the way to its headwaters high in the Sierra, near Lassen Peak. But for now they’re focusing on Bidwell Park.

For all practical purposes, the city already has committed to the sections of the trail that run from the mansion to Upper Park. But the Upper Park trail has been controversial.

The Joneses, desiring to assure that the trail pass “within sight and sound” of the creek at all times, proposed that it follow an existing trail much of the way but that a new trail be blazed closer to the creek in two places, both of which contained sensitive wetlands. Park Department staff and some members of the parks commission were concerned that putting a Class B trail (up to four feet wide, with even more room for shoulders) in such sensitive areas would be environmentally destructive.

Friday’s hike was meant to see just what was at stake along the proposed trail.

As Parks Department staffer Steve Hogue pointed out to the group, the closer a trail is to the creek, the more impact it has on wildlife. The existing trail, known as the South Rim Trail, is well away from the creek, in blue-oak woodland, which is home to about 80 species of wildlife. “This habitat can take a lot of beating and keep on ticking,” he said.

Habitat along the creek, where some 250 different species reside, is much more vulnerable, he went on.

We passed by several places that were clearly wetlands—wet, spongy ground covered with water-loving plants. Plant debris lodged high in the branches of creekside bushes showed that in recent years the creek had flooded to a level well above the proposed trail.

At all of the places where the proposed trail was problematical, however, Michael Jones said he was willing to relocate it farther up the hillside to mitigate the concerns. He also agreed that it wasn’t necessary to make the trail a full-blown Class B trail, one wide enough for horses and bicyclists as well as hikers, as originally proposed. A simple foot trail suitable for hikers would be fine, he said.

Not only that, he’s willing to oversee a volunteer effort to put in the trail, at no cost to the city.

The Joneses’ proposed trail passes “within sight and sound of the creek,” but there is little direct creek access. Still, it’s a nice hike, though it probably never will be heavily used in its upper stretches simply because it’s a long haul in. However, if the city puts a couple of pedestrian bridges over the creek, one near Brown’s Hole and the other near Day Camp, as has been proposed, it will become more accessible.

The creekside section closer to town, on the other hand, seemed to have few environmental constraints and offered a lovely alternative to the current South Rim Trail.

As the hike progressed, a consensus seemed to emerge among the hikers, though of course the councilmembers didn’t talk among themselves about it. Still, if the Joneses wanted to bushwhack a foot trail and were willing to avoid creating environmental problems, more power to them, but the existing trail should be kept and maintained for multiple use.

This would have the advantage not only of allowing hikers to walk closer to the creek and through some beautiful riparian habitat, but also of creating alternative trails that provide a variety of ways to experience the park.