By Josephine Guardino
Have you ever stopped to wonder about the things that might change Bidwell Park? Or do we take this wonderful public resource for granted? The fact that this Park sits adjacent to a rapidly growing urban area should alert nature lovers that the impacts and potential threats to the ecosystem of this magnificent place are as varied as they are tangible.
A closer look at what is currently impacting the health of the park, will likely cause readers to think twice before assuming that ‘all is well’ in our beloved Bidwell Park.
Threats from outside of Bidwell Park
As we all know, growth is coming to the Sacramento Valley. It need not come on the heels of economic forces, but rather the fact that approximately 1,000,000 new people arrive in California yearly makes this event inevitable. With this growth come impacts to every part of our lives such as increases in traffic and housing densities, diminishing air and water quality, as well as loss of natural habitats, and open spaces. As with the use of many public facilities of the City, the use of Bidwell Park can realistically be expected to rise exponentially.
One of the most visible direct impacts to Bidwell Park that results from an expanding City of Chico is the development of private, formerly open space lands adjacent to Upper Park. Because the City has allowed development immediately adjacent to Upper Park, the City has significantly diminished the aesthetic value of the once majestic view. The build-out of the Canyon Oaks development (approved in 1989) prompted many park lovers to call the City of Chico to express their sincere disappointment. These calls led to both a review of the project’s planning process which revealed a mistake in the view-shed assessment, and a discussion by the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission, who are now in the process of drafting a “Bidwell Park View-shed Overlay Zone” which they hope will influence planning decisions County-wide.
Many other impacts to the native ecosystem follow nearby development. Most notably, is the invasion of non-native species, which next to development, is a primary cause of habitat loss of California’s open spaces. Human activity is most often the vector by which non- native species arrive, whether by foot, tire or by intentional planting. These invasive species displace native species, reducing the overall biodiversity of a given region.
Some municipalities across the nation have acknowledged the threat of native habitat loss and created encroachment ordinances that hold landowners responsible for their escaped plants. By allowing residents adjacent to Bidwell Park to landscape with noxious weeds such as ivy, brooms and olives, the City is encouraging the spread of these highly invasive non-native species into the park. This affects the habitat requirements of many native life forms that rely on our own special foothill environment. Once an invasive plant species gets a foothold, native plants that cannot compete are soon outnumbered. Without intervention, Upper Park will quickly become a haven for invasive plants, animals and invertebrates that could potentially completely alter the ecosystem. An example of an ecosystem now dominated by non-native species is Lower Park, which is surrounded by urban development.
Other impacts resulting from adjacent developments include fragmentation of contiguous habitat required by some wildlife species, such as nesting and foraging raptors and songbirds, as well as deer and other mammal species that migrate seasonally and/or diurnally (morning and evening) between higher elevation ridge and lower elevation canyon and creek side habitats.
An increase of “edge effect” is another negative consequence resulting from development adjacent to natural areas. This ecological phenomenon manifests in increased disturbances to wildlife species (particularly reclusive ones), increased potential for noxious species invasions (plant and animal), increased chance of accidental wildfires (95% of wildfires in California foothills and valleys are human caused), increased effects of wind, water, and human-borne “spillover” pollution (to name a few), in what is otherwise supposed to be natural undeveloped habitat (Upper Park).
In short, the more fragmentation and edge effect a natural system experiences, the more difficult it becomes to properly manage the system. The more vulnerable and unmanageable this particular natural system becomes, the less it is recognizable as our beloved Upper Park.
With increased park use comes more pressure on both facilities and natural resources. While many of us might assume that the City of Chico is prepared and able to protect the Bidwell Park experience for generations to come, a look at the City’s track record gives reason for pause.
Threats from ‘within’ Bidwell Park
Many large open spaces that are next to large urban areas such as Griffith Park in Los Angeles or Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside County have felt the ravages of intense and uncontrolled public use. In these cases, millions of dollars have been spent trying to recapture the habitat values and aesthetic integrity that was compromised by years of neglect and abuse. Because of similarly poor planning and neglect, Bidwell Park is in jeopardy of losing its natural beauty and is threatened by ecological degradation.
A clear example of this is the City of Chico’s seeming unwillingness to address the many unauthorized and rapidly eroding ‘bootleg’ trails that zigzag across the thinly soiled slopes of Upper Park. Even site-specific erosion along the officially designated trails are victims of neglect, as the under-funded maintenance staff struggles to address the trail system’s poor design and poor condition. Poorly designed and/or un-maintained trails can, and in many cases have, led to massive loss of soil, which washes down the trails and increases the sediment loads in tributaries, negatively affecting aquatic wildlife in Big Chico Creek. In some areas, a complete loss of topsoil has exposed the bedrock, a substrate unable to support plant growth. In most cases, this in turn leads to more accelerated soil erosion. In some areas of Upper Park, massive erosion like this and/or the presence of multiple, duplicitous trails have significantly affected the natural beauty of the area. Despite some discussion of this in the 1990 version, the new update of the Bidwell Park Master Management Plan provides an opportunity for the City of Chico to demonstrate a much better understanding of this serious threat to the park’s natural resources and trail system.
Although the City is unable to provide for basic and adequate park maintenance needs, it continues with proposals for more developments in Upper Bidwell Park, including miles of new trails across unstudied land, two 18-hole disc golf courses, and a Horseshoe Lake multi-million dollar extreme makeover.
By building new recreational facilities in Upper Park, the City is diminishing the aesthetic setting, and quality and health of a very complex ecosystem. These new recreational facilities will increase and concentrate impacts on natural and cultural resources, fragment diverse natural habitats, increase the spread of invasive species, reduce the quality of wildlife habitat and increase the threat of catastrophic wildfires, not to mention draw funding away from much needed maintenance.
The more facilities the City allows in Upper Park, the less wild it becomes, thereby reducing the quality of the natural experience — something the urban dwellers of Chico are lucky to have at their back doorstep.
Trails, roads and other existing park facilities deserve the attention they require before Upper Park is turned into a hodgepodge of unsightly scars reminiscent of the urban jungle, rather than a cared for and well-loved magnificent northern California canyon.
What can be done to help Bidwell Park?
Every municipal park system faces similar challenges when it comes to funding and caring for their parks. Bidwell Park is no different in that respect. Whether you’re an average Joe or Joanna or you sit on the Chico City Council, Bidwell Park needs your help.
Here is a list of suggestions that can make a difference:
Learn more about history and natural resources of this wonderful place. The more you know, the more you’ll appreciate the park, and the more you can share with others. Go to the Chico Creek Nature Center at 1968 E. 8th Street or check out one of the many fun and informative events listed on the web site www.friendsofbidwellpark.org.
Volunteer. Every city park system would lie dead in the water if it were not for the help of volunteers. Even though Bidwell Park enjoys the dedication of several individuals and organizations, there remains so much more to do, from invasive plant removal and streamside restoration to trail maintenance and more! Didn’t anyone ever tell you that volunteering is both fun and rewarding? Contact the City of Chico Parks Department at www.chico.ca.us for a list of volunteer organizations or go to www.friendsofbidwellpark.org for more information.
Learn more about park planning and management. As a public resource, Bidwell Park deserves the attention of a dedicated citizenry. If you have an appetite for watching the political and social machinery and you love the park as most do, the public process can definitely use you.
Write a letter to City Hall or attend public meetings. Like all good democracies, public participation is essential and you need to let the decision makers know how you feel. If you don’t, you won’t have reason to grumble later if things don’t go as you’d hoped. Besides, City Councilors and other City commissioners love to hear what their constituents are thinking.
Some suggestions for letter topics might include additional funding for maintenance of existing trails and facilities, an adherence to the recommendations of the Park’s Master Management Plan, the preservation of the Park’s wild character, or whatever you truly care about.
In the end, Bidwell Park will be what we — collectively as a community — make it.