When the wind blows

Bidwell Park takes another beating from storm conditions

City workers clean up the debris from a valley oak tree that fell next to Sycamore Pool.

City workers clean up the debris from a valley oak tree that fell next to Sycamore Pool.

Photo by Ken Smith

A giant valley oak that stood over one of Chico’s most iconic landmarks for nearly a century succumbed to storms early Monday morning (Jan. 9), blocking a roadway as it fell to the earth at One-Mile Recreation Area in Lower Bidwell Park.

The tree, located on the northern bank of Big Chico Creek at Sycamore Pool, fell onto Vallombrosa Way at about 1:30 a.m., according to Dan Efseaff, the city’s parks and natural resources manager. A neighbor called 911 to report the fall, and the city dispatched an emergency maintenance crew to the scene before dawn.

“We were anticipating a pretty challenging day [Sunday], so we’d actually geared up with a crew to respond to tree failures,” Efseaff said. “We had three crew members that were ready to clean things up, even though it wasn’t their normal day of work, which helped us get a head start on some of the tree issues.”

City workers removed the tree from the roadway, secured the area with traffic cones, and returned Tuesday to remove the debris.

“With the flooding we’ve seen recently, the creek had risen nearly to the base of that tree,” said Efseaff, who estimated the oak to be about 80 years old. “It was a vigorous, healthy-looking tree with a good root system. But when you have overly saturated soil and these really wet conditions that add extra weight, they can topple over.”

Starting at sunrise Monday, a steady stream of looky-loos trickled along Vallombrosa Way to see the flooded creek and fallen tree.

“We have a lot of people going to the park to check things out,” Efseaff said. “We understand they’re interested in what happens out there, but a lot of people are ignoring the caution tape and danger barricades we have set up, and that’s not OK. People need to be smarter about that. As hazards are reduced, we go out and remove those signs, so if there’s a sign up, there’s a reason for it.”

The storm lightened up but returned on Tuesday, and city officials anticipated more calls for service. Skyler Lipski, manager of Public Works, said that city efforts to address damage are “going pretty well, given the magnitude of this storm.”

“I attribute that to our crew’s proactive approach,” he said. “We do storm-drain cleaning year-round, some minor culvert repair work and have an aggressive leaf pick-up schedule. When it’s 100 degrees in August, we’re actually thinking about days like this and preparing.”

Lipski reported a handful of other tree-falls around town, mostly in or near Bidwell Park. His department has also responded to several incidents of localized flooding, primarily along Lindo Channel. He said the city will continue running additional work crews through the week to reduce response times to—and attempt to stay ahead of—storm damage.

One-Mile isn’t the only Chico landmark marred by storms this season. In mid-December, inclement weather caused another valley oak to fall at Caper Acres, directly on top of the playground’s Crooked House. The structure was damaged beyond repair and torn down a few days later.

The city has been sitting on a Caper Acres Renovation Master Plan since 2014, and the first phase is slated to begin this spring. The Crooked House was scheduled to be replaced later, during the plan’s third phase, but Efseaff said its destruction prompted changes.

“The conceptual plan we had was to have two crooked houses connected by a rickety bridge,” Efseaff said. “We’re going to try to erect half of it, then keep it ready to add onto in the future. That way, we’ll get the Crooked House back in a timely fashion without stalling our other efforts.”