Discipline, once again, so I will continue to write. Here is a little information about Bidwell Park, the municipal park I am researching and writing about.
It is a huge (3000 acres plus) park that actually connects with downtown Chico and extends towards the Sierra Nevada foothills. Lower Park, closer to town is fairly developed with swimming areas, picnic areas, playgrounds, etc. but also some short and pretty hiking trails. Upper Park, closer to the foothills is wilder, and many of us want to keep it wild.
Big Chico Creek flows originates on a Sierra mountain and flows though the park, eventually connecting with the Sacramento River west of Chico.The bedrock here is called the Chico Formation which was deposited by an inland sea many millions of years ago. There are places next to the creek where it is exposed and where you can find fossils of sma prehistoric sea creatures. Lava from a volcano near the present town of Susanville came later, creating the Lovejoy Basalt structures that can be found by the creek and in other parts of this region. The later Tuscan mud flows, which developed when a volcano in the Cascade range erupted and melted snow that carried rocks throughout this region form most of Upper Park’s hills. Big Chico Creek left alluvial fan deposits that are the underlying structure for flatter Lower Park.
Foothill woodlands thrive high on Upper Park’s ridges. Blue oak groves, chapperal, and grasslands cover the lower slopes. Galaxies of wildflowers blaze here in spring, although the park is dry now, due to California’s natural summer drought. (The drought has often been worse lately due to climate change, that is another story.) Valley oaks and other water loving trees border the creek. Autumn will bring a psychedelic display of colors from trees and plants.
A wide range of animals live here – acorn woodpeckers are the most common birds, although we often see and hear hawks, quail, towhees, and many others. Mule deer, raccoons, gray squirrels, and many other animals live here, including mountain lions and black bears – those two species are careful to steer clear of people. Hordes of butterflies zip along in spring and summer, especially dark pipe vine swallowtails whose orange spots warn predators that they are toxic.
The park’s history is complex. The Maidu people have lived here for thousands of years, and people have found many signs that they were active in the area we call the park. The settler and rancher John Bidwell owned this land from the 1860s until his death in 1900. His widow Annie began to donate land to the city of Chico in 1905; she later made other gifts, and the city bought additional land to complete the park. Annie included a few requirements: animals and plants should be protected, there should be no hunting, some ranching could continue, and alcohol should not be produced or sold in the park (she was a Presbyterian and a strict prohibitionist.)
The situation became troubled after Annie’s death in 1918. A Park and Playground Commission was formed to manage the park, but its powers were limited to making recommendations to City Council. The policy statements are weak, and many have taken advantage of the lack of enforcement. A golf course was built near Upper Park in 1918 – I am one of those who thinks it should really be somewhere else, but there is nothing we can do about its presence.
Other projects have including a rifle range, military training activities, a short lived zoo, and unauthorized use of off road vehicles. Other proposed projects such as an airfield, a Woodstock type rock festival in Upper Park, an RV campground and others fortunately didn’t see the light of day. For a while, lovers of feral cats were leaving gourmet meals for them in the park; I love cats but they are very hard on birds and other species. Warner Brothers decided the park resembled a British oak forest and filmed parts of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD here in the 1930s.
The problem really is that the stated policies are so weak that anyone can propose any project, and many have developed. The city’s funds are relatively low – they have increased since the recession of 2008, but the park does not seem to be a high priority. Volunteer groups work to clean up the park, preserve habitat, and to educate the public about the treasure at their doorstep.
I am doing massive research along with interviewing biologists, historians, a Maidu woman, and will interview others in the future. I see this project as my way of contributing to this wonderful places long term survival. It involves massive work but it is really fascinating, and I think it is relevant to the question of how any town should relate to the wild lands around it. I hope to have a draft by the end of the year, they I will have to revise it and look for a publisher. For more information, watch this space!