Can’t see the river for the trash

Marie Wilson is active in the North Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and the American River Parkway Preservation Society

My companion opened the door of the car to let his dog out. Immediately, someone began shouting expletives at us, and two dogs began snarling and growling in our direction. Several homeless people appeared to be permanently camped in the shade of the trees with nearby trash strewn everywhere.

That was my introduction to the “pristine” entry to the American River Parkway in North Sacramento. The definition of pristine is: “uncorrupted by civilization; free from soil or decay, fresh and clean.”

Although the American River itself was clear, clean and quiet, the rest of the area, from the trail to the banks of the river, was anything but pristine. We walked on the trails for about two miles, during which time I saw one campsite after another. There were campfires, broken tree branches, piles of trash, shopping carts, human excrement, abandoned bicycles, a weed-cutter and a broken bike lock, plus three separate locations where fires had burned the brush and trees—in one instance, right down to the riverbank.

Conversely, I recently sat at the bank of the American River in Fair Oaks near the Capitola Bridge, where I felt safe and saw no signs of homeless campers, trash, etc.

Why is one area of the river so well cared for and truly deserving of the description “pristine,” while another area near the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, and at the beginning of the bike trail, is a disgrace? I would never return to an area overrun with trash and illegal campers and fraught with crime.

In the past two years, a number of crimes have occurred in that general area, including numerous robberies and rapes, and there was a homicide about two years ago. The offenders are rarely caught.

In the early 1980s, I lived in the Santa Cruz area, where a “no-tolerance zone” was established in the popular downtown Pacific Street Mall. In a recent conversation with Len LaBarth, city editor for the Santa Cruz paper, he said that the success of such a zone depends on enforcement. In Sacramento County, we have a law that says camping along the American River Parkway is illegal. Why do we have to wait for additional crimes to occur before such enforcement takes place?