Volunteers locate Lost Park, give it a good grooming

Make a Difference Day targets forgotten resource

City Code Enforcement Officer Raul Gonzales and Friends of Bidwell Park organizer Susan Mason.

City Code Enforcement Officer Raul Gonzales and Friends of Bidwell Park organizer Susan Mason.

Photo By Tom gascoyne

Chico’s Lost Park, the long-overlooked and forgotten section of Bidwell Park that runs through the north end of downtown, got some serious attention last Saturday (Oct. 22) from an army of volunteers and one determined city code enforcement officer.

The property straddles Big Chico Creek between the Camellia Way bridge and The Esplanade and marks the westernmost part of Lower Bidwell Park.

A large pile of vegetative debris removed from Lost Park sits in the adjoining parking lot, awaiting removal.

Photo By Tom gascoyne

This summer Lost Park made the news as a site for criminal activity, including a sexual assault in July and a month later a stabbing that led to a mini-riot behind the nearby 7-Eleven store.

The park, obscured by overgrown vegetation including vines, privet trees, ivy and other invasive, nonnative plants, has offered a sheltered stage for such activity. The recent work, however, has lifted the curtain on that stage and revealed to the general public a 15-foot-wide stream flowing through a pretty nice section of nature, right next to the hustle and bustle of downtown Chico.

The cleanup was part of the annual Make a Difference Day and in this case a joint effort by the Chico Noon Rotary Club and Friends of Bidwell Park (FOBP), a group of volunteers that has long tended to park protection and upkeep.

Members of the California Conservation Corps were also on hand, chopping uprooted vegetation and gnarled vines and then placing the debris into a large Dumpster provided by Waste Management Inc.

By noon the Dumpster was filled and two huge piles of vegetative debris were stacked in the city parking lot that sits behind the commercial building on First Street, directly north of Wall Street.

Susan Mason of FOBP said the Rotary took on the south side of the park, which is the more accessible section, stretching about 75 feet from the parking lot to the creek’s edge.

FOBP worked on the north side, where public access is limited by the presence of Bidwell’s Mill Creekside Apartments on the west, the Christian & Johnson flower shop to the east and five houses that lie in between, about 25 feet from the creek.

FOBP volunteers were joined by members of the Alpha Sigma Chi fraternity and students from Chico High. Mason said the neighbors were contacted beforehand and in all cases gave their approval for the work.

“The apartment-building owner has let us access the site via their parking lotm and all of the neighbors are OK with us working there without worrying about whether we’re on park land or private land, which is the main reason we didn’t work in this area before now,” Mason said.

The Rotary Club proposed the southside cleanup to Dan Efseaff, the city’s park and natural resources manager, and he decided what vegetation would be removed. Mason also gave kudos to Raul Gonzalez, a code enforcement officer with the Police Department and the lone city employee providing labor on this day.

Standing by the donated green Waste Management bin, as members of the CCC filled it with vegetative rubble, Gonzales said he just got tired of the park situation and decided to do something about it.

“I went to [City Manager] Dave Burkland and [Assistant City Manager] John Rucker to get something started,” he said. “Something has to be done.”

Efseaff said Gonzales’ efforts went “above and beyond” what was expected, especailly for a guy working on what was normally his day off.

So what’s next for the park? Picnic tables? Steps? A gazebo?

Good question, said Efseaff.

“There is always the social component that we’ll continue to push around,” he said referring to the transients, delinquents and other social outcasts who’ve long used the park.

“We aren’t going to solve it right away. We’ll follow up by planting some grass and trees to replace the nonnative vegetation with native plants, and maybe a bit of shrubbery to control the erosion.”

He said it’s probably a bit early in the game to put in a picnic table—one that used to be there became “an attractive nuisance.”

“There is a plan to put up a sign to identify the location,” he said. “It’s sort of like Lost Park has been found.”