The area of Bidwell Park, unofficially called Lost Park, is located in downtown Chico between the Esplanade and Camellia Way bridges, on both sides of Big Chico Creek. Access to the south side is through the city-owned parking lot on East 1st Street that is directly adjacent to the parkland. Access to the north side is currently limited due to encroachments by a business and several residences. The Christian-Johnson business encroachment is legal, through an agreement with the city of Chico that will expire soon. At the Esplanade end, the apartment building and its patios are not on parkland nor is the building across the creek, owned by the Chico State University Research Foundation. Likewise, the Sierra Central Credit Union, near the eastern park boundary, is not encroaching. At the time these buildings were constructed, it was legal to build to the property line, even along a creek.
The “Lost Park” name may have arisen during the time between the construction of the adjacent city parking lot (unknown date) and 1974. When the lot was built, a solid corrugated metal fence was constructed along its edge so that neighbors across the creek wouldn’t have to look at cars and parking meters. In 1974, the parking lot was briefly considered as a site for the Chico branch library, ultimately built at East 1st Ave. and Sherman (Enterprise-Record, 9/11/74). This site discussion focused more attention on the hidden parkland and in November of 1974, the fence was torn down (E-R, 11/6/74 & 11/21/74), exposing mounds of trash and the discovery that some homes on the north side of the creek had extended their property development to the creek edge. Several boundary line surveys have been done on the north side, but, since there’s no encroachment ordinance for Bidwell Park (as there is for Lindo Channel), eliminating structural and vegetation encroachments there have not been pursued to-date.
Currently, Lost Park is primarily used by the homeless as a camping area (especially at its eastern end) and is also a popular site for drinking parties. It appears to be used infrequently by downtown business owners and employees, customers, or students. Periodically, there has been talk of extending the bike path from Annie’s Glen through Lost Park and on to Bidwell Mansion, which would increase usage of the area. With the conceptual approval of a bike and pedestrian underpass that will connect Annie’s Glen to the rest of Lower Park, extending the path further west is sure to be a topic of discussion. If you look at the map or at the actual area, you’ll see that there’s a problem with putting a bike path here, because the city owns only a few feet of the top-of-bank on either side at the Esplanade end. Also, when the Camellia Way Bridge was rebuilt a few years ago, there was no consideration of designing the bridge so that a bike path could be built underneath it. Providing this connectivity to downtown and the University would have such significant benefits, though, that it needs to be pursued.
Lost Park has the potential to be one of downtown Chico’s scenic attractions. Other cities are spending millions of dollars to uncover their downtown creeks, provide walkways along them and reorient businesses to face the creeks. Recently, Friends of Bidwell Park began a monthly trash pickup and invasive plant removal program in Lost Park, in the hope of not only improving the area’s appearance and security, but to draw public attention to this neglected but special part of Bidwell Park.