Enjoy Bidwell Park at your own risk

Yesterday my husband and I finished our chores early and jumped on our mountain bikes for a ride up into Bidwell Park. We often ride the old Schwinn Twin up to the rifle range and back, but the mountain bikes can maneuver the off road trails and I feel like I’m getting more of a workout.

The city has let the park go to hell.  The paved roads are shredded, not from cars, but from the garbage trucks that come in to get the trash every week. Those roads, even maintained, are not built for big trucks, and the city knows that. But, city workers get paid in excess of $65,000 a year, plus benefits and pension, while a garbage truck driver gets little more than minimum wage with no benies, so the city went with the garbage companies.

The longtime trails are overgrown with poison oak and blackberry vines, and riddled with dangerous gopher holes. Paved paths are being eaten away by erosion – a large tree fell across the creek and was allowed to lay there, diverting the stream, which ate within inches of the road, which sits in disrepair waiting to form a sink hole.  Full poop bags are left on the ground along trails, or even tied festively to trees and shrubs along the way.  If you wind your way into the overgrowth, you will find signs of homeless camps.  Trees are dangerously unmaintained, branches are falling all the time, some over trails or the roadway.

All of these conditions threaten legal liability for the city. I recommend anybody visiting the park be very careful.

As Mayor, Mark Sorensen holds full responsibility and should be ashamed of what he’s allowed to happen to our “jewel” while employees fed like a pack of hogs off the budget. Now he promises roads will be opened and maintenance will  return to schedule. How obvious a ploy was this? He hired Nakamura and let the guy close and gut our parks while he and the other management employees pilfered the cookie jar, and now he tried to act as though it was some tragedy out of his control. Let me check my watch – I’ll give him about six months before he’s pandering for a sales tax increase to cover all his good intentions!

 But, I couldn’t let that stop me from enjoying the park on a day like yesterday. We left our house and headed right into the lower park. Right away we were greeted by frisky Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, which are native to this area. You will find them all over town, but they lay their eggs in the Pipevine plants that grow along creeks and foresty trails, that’s the only food their larvae can eat. There is quite a lot of Pipevine in the park, and also at Lindo Channel.

These butterflies might seem plain in poor light, but in sunshine you can see the rainbow colors emitted from their black wings.  The caterpillars will be appearing soon –black and orange stripes, with these curious little appendages that stick up when they are startled. I’ve heard they are poisonous, but I don’t have to touch them to enjoy them. I’m already searching lush patches of pipevine for the telltale holes in the leaves – turn the leaf over, and there they are, oftentimes still in the line they hatched from, their little siblings munching away right alongside them. They start out a quarter of an inch or so – adorable, like tiny muppets – and grow up to about 4 inches before they hit the trails to cocoon and make the transformation into an adult butterfly.  By June you should see the caterpillars lumbering along trails and even  across the road – watch your step please!

The butterflies twittered around our heads as we made our way along the trails. They raced along beside us sometimes. The shinier, more colorful males get into little battles, a dusty female hanging around nearby. They really seem to go for blue flowers, native or not – the vinca is blooming right now, and for all the bad things people say about that stuff, the butterflies love it. They also like the native brodiaea, those purple flowers that grow in grassy, sunny meadows. The old people used to eat the bulbs of those flowers, they’re like onions.

We rode up the south side of the park, passed under the Manzanita bridge. My husband has used the trails under the bridge since childhood, I think it’s a death trap. The city sealed somebody’s fate when they paved it – what a stupid move. The deal Annie Bidwell made with the city when she allowed pavement of Manzanita and a new bridge was that the bridge should be high enough for her phaeton to pass underneath.

This is a phaeton.

Image result for one horse phaeton
 Image courtesy of the Carriage Collection, Stony Brook Museums

There is a phaeton available for viewing at Bidwell Mansion, I don’t know if it was Annie’s or not, but it sure as hell would not pass under that bridge. Certainly not when the trail is flooded. Another example of how seriously they take a person who leaves private property to the public.

Beyond the bridge you see how Mark Sorensen has allowed that paved trail to be undermined by gophers and weather and encroached upon by trees. The edges of the path are broken and a safety hazard. Approaching Five Mile we see potholes that could take a runner down whole. My advice to runners – don’t go into the park after sunset, you will break your leg.

Everywhere non-native plants are threatening native plants, huge rotten limbs hang precariously  over the road  or paved trails, occasionally coming crashing down and closing off the road or heavily used trails until the city arranges for them tobe removed. Lush, oily poison oak is protruding into pathways, errant branches hanging into the paved road.

Parking lots have been closed, so cars line the public roads, creating a nuisance in the residential areas and a safety hazard on the narrow, unmaintained roads surrounding the park. It looks like they’re mowing weeds in  some areas – they better hurry, before the ground  really dries out and somebody starts a fire parking their car in a weed patch. Soon they will be in danger of starting a fire with the mower.

A sign set next to a tree as you exit the park onto the public road warns of “Honey Bees at Work”. The gate is locked and the narrow pedestrian/bike trail leads the passerby directly to the bees’ nest.  Proceed at your own risk. My husband  and I lowered our heads and entered the little crowd of workers, a couple of them bounced off my head, one gal followed but not far.

We headed up from Five Mile toward the golf course, up along the canyon road and back to the dirt road that leads up to the old shooting range. That trail is very bad, the rocks create a washboard at the bottom. I know the mountain bikers don’t care, but I don’t like it – it’s dangerous, somebody is going to get hurt, and I think the city is liable. That’s our money!

Riding up along the creek, we saw a big pile of bear scat, just below those houses on the ridge, along the old  deteriorating rock wall. Looked like he or she had stuffed  themselves on some wild plums, pits and all. 

After huffing and puffing myself up the hill, I sat with my husband in the meadow at the gun range, sharing a bottle of water and a candy  bar. The trail gets too steep for me at this point, so we watch as much younger people mount that skid and  fail, grabbing their bike frame and cursing their way up the slippery hard dirt, disappearing into the buck brush.

After enjoying the flowers and bugs and slow lazy vultures swooping overhead, we mounted up and went back to Five Mile, crossed the bridge, and took those dirt trails north of the creek. The greenery is lush and beautiful, purple vetch blooming four feet high, butterflies everywhere. A little clutch of battling males flittered around my head. At this point my arms and butt were sore, and I realized, we still had quite a ways home. I had my backpack with water bag – that is the best thing ever, no fumbling with water bottle.

We wound our way to the paved trail that runs along Manzanita, passed the Frisbee golf course, where we saw at least a dozen players enjoying themselves. The traffic circles were busy, and as such,  very bicycle unfriendly, so my husband took me under the bridge on the unpaved trail. EEEK! – there’s a huge hole under there, big enough to eat our friend Jerry, who  almost hit it the other day. The city needs to close this trail  and do something about either improving it or closing it off permanently.  I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty dangerous trying to navigate that stupid traffic circle on a bike, it’s six of one half dozen of the other as far as I’m concerned. I walked it.

That last leg beyond the Manzanita bridge is always the longest 100 miles for me. Sheesh I was tired, the mountain bike is way  more of a work out, especially following my husband, Captain Speed. My friend and constant companion, Arthur Itis, was starting to use unsavory language.  People were out in force with their dogs, some off leash, and I had to hold my tongue to keep from asking one lady just what she intended to do with the poop bag she had in her hand.

We rolled into our driveway and I went right in and took some Hylands anti-cramp pills. I  think they work – I used to wake up in the middle of the night after a ride like this with cramps in my legs, which would be jerking and kicking as if still in the pedals. These pills – I order them from Lucky Vitamin – have helped alot. I use them for long car trips too.  

They say bananas are good for cramps, I put a banana in my smoothie every morning.

The mayor has made big talk lately about opening the roads into the park again, after they do some maintenance. I’ll say, it’s long overdue, and let’s not forget who allowed things to get to this point in the first place.

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