Recent Upper Bidwell Park fire shows the city is not doing enough to stop illegal camping in the park

17 Jul

Last week’s fire that closed most of Upper Bidwell Park, indefinitely, should not have come as a shock to anybody, least of all City of Chico Parks Director Linda Herman.  

Sent: Sunday, July 08, 2018 6:00 AM
To: Linda Herman <linda.herman@Chicoca.gov>; Theresa Rodriguez <theresa.rodriguez@Chicoca.gov>; Shane Romain <shane.romain@Chicoca.gov>
Cc: Sean Morgan <sean.morgan@Chicoca.gov>
Subject: Illegal camping at Peregrine Point disc golf course

Hi Linda,

Does the city’s Declaration of a shelter crisis mean that people are allowed to camp in city-owned parks?

My husband and I walk our dogs almost daily at the Peregrine Point disc golf course on Highway 32. There’s a man who’s essentially living there out of his vehicle, he’s been there almost every day that we have gone up for over a month now. He’s there very early in the morning, we’ve caught him in his underwear.

We’ve also noticed that the trash has been overflowing on several occasions. Then the other morning (July 5) we found that the post at the trailhead had smoke coming out of it – we believe there was an unextinguished cigarette in it. We poured an entire  bottle of drinking water in it, and that seemed to put it out. We drove by later and there was no longer any smoke coming out. We believe if we hadn’t done anything it could have started a serious fire , the metal post was extremely hot. It was before 8 a.m. and the illegal camper was the only other person there.

We can see that The Outsiders group has been taking care of their responsibilities, putting chips on the trails and at the tees. We see less litter on the actual course then we have seen in past.

But we’ve also seen a lot of broken car window glass in the parking lot, and we see this illegal camper there regularly. We’ve also found a site a ways up the old Humboldt Road where someone has obviously been camping. There’s a small Fire Ring, indicating they are actually having campfires. There’s also soiled toilet paper on the ground at that site.

I took pictures. 

we no longer feel confident walking out of sight of our car. We’re usually out doing our rentals, we have tools in the back of our truck we can’t afford to lose.

What is the city planning to do about the problem of illegal camping and thefts out of vehicles in our public parks?

Thanks , at your convenience, for your anticipated reply, Juanita Sumner

Herman’s response was prompt:

From: Linda Herman <linda.herman@Chicoca.gov>

Date: 7/9/18 4:20 PM (GMT-08:00)

To: Juanita Sumner <nag.mom@hotmail.com>

Cc: Sean Morgan <sean.morgan@Chicoca.gov>, All Park Rangers <all-park-rangers@chicoca.gov>, Mark Orme <mark.orme@Chicoca.gov>, Erik Gustafson <erik.gustafson@Chicoca.gov>, Michael O’Brien <michael.obrien@Chicoca.gov>, Shane Romain <shane.romain@Chicoca.gov>

Subject: RE: Illegal camping at Peregrine Point disc golf course

Hi Juanita,

Thank you for providing this information.  We were aware of previous campers in the Cal Trans right of way up the road and with the assistance of CHP have moved them along numerous times.  However, we did not know there was a camper directly at Peregrine Point parking lot.  Thank you for also putting out the fire, which is very scary!

The Senior Ranger went up there today but did not see this vehicle.  We will also increase the frequencies of Ranger visits to see if we can catch him.  I will also let the Outsiders know to let us know if they see any suspicious vehicles/activity and to call Police Dispatch if there is an emergency.

In addition, the Rangers and the Chico Police Department Target Unit have been working hard to increase patrols to address the continual, overwhelming encampments and illegal activity that occurs in Bidwell Park and the other City parks and greenways.   

Again, thank you for alerting me to this individual.  We very much appreciate your efforts, and for helping to be more eyes and ears out there for us.

Linda

Linda Herman

Park & Natural Resource Manager

City of Chico

I wasn’t surprised that Herman and staff were unaware of the camper – all an illegal camper has  to do is be up and around by 8 am and the ranger can’t do anything. And no ranger or other staffers are coming by at night, or before 8 in the morning, or they’d have caught him red handed, walking back from the portable toilet in his skivvies. 

And I think we caught him putting his cigarette butt in the metal post at the trail head. We walk the course frequently, and he’s the only other person we see there at that hour of the morning. 

I responded to Herman, telling her that just that morning we’d been to the course, and in the time it took to walk from the parking lot to the point somebody had turned out the trash can, obviously looking for recyclables, and left the contents on the ground around the bottom of the can. It wasn’t an animal, it was a person. We’ve seen other campsites, with fire rings and ash, along the old Humboldt Road, and we realized somebody could be lurking out in the bushes along the road. We felt lucky our truck hadn’t been broken into.

I also told her we were pretty disgusted with the condition of the park, and asked her if she’d like to take a walk in Lower Park near my house. She accepted, and that was the last time I spoke to her before I heard the news about the fire.

Something I wanted to bring up in my e-mail was that the only maintenance we are seeing at Peregrine  Point is the trail maintenance agreed to by the Outsiders, the local group that got the course set up all those years ago, and made an agreement to maintain it at their own expense. But as far as I remember, that agreement just covered the course itself – the trails that lead to the various tees and baskets, the area directly surrounding the tees and baskets, and the old growth Blue Oak trees along the course. The Outsiders have been spreading bark and setting up netting to protect the trees, it looked like they had groups up there frequently judging from the work that was done. Somebody had been weed whacking the grass along the trails. 

But all around the disc course the grass was left to grow waist high and die. The old growth trees, some of their branches laying on the ground, didn’t stand a chance in that situation. When I walked the course yesterday morning with my family I could see whole stands of old trees that are caput. The big gorgeous oak tree that met visitors at the top of the trail head  leading into the course had caught fire and been pushed over by a bulldozer.

The fire destroyed a lot of the fixtures that have been installed by the Outsiders over the years.

The fire was not a surprise to me, but still a shock. I just can’t believe the way the city has allowed the park to degrade, and then let campers in. They say this fire started at Alligator Hole, at 10 pm Thursday. The park road is gated at sunset. Anybody up there with fire at 10 pm is an illegal camper. 

Remember that old saying – “for every one you see, there’s 10 in the floor boards”

Herman admitted they are aware of the campers along Humboldt Road, “the Cal Trans right of way”, so how could she not know there are others camped in the park below the canyon rim? That’s either incompetence or willful neglect.

Not long ago the park commission told rangers either get used to carrying a gun or look for another job. I believe a couple of them quit but the rest are now sworn officers and carry guns. Why aren’t they out on the Upper Park Road at night searching out illegal campers? How much time are they spending in Downtown Chico now that they are part of the police department?

This isn’t the first time there’s been a substantial fire in the Upper Park, in the same area where I’d reported illegal campers. My husband and I had been observing an entrenched homeless camp on the other side of Hwy 32, within site of the highway and the new subdivision, just below the new Cal Water storage tank. We’d reported it to the police, Officer Zuchin had responded. But again and again we’d drive by and there was the camp, a blue tarp shade structure strung from the oak trees, a big pile of burned over wood, and a trash pile that looked as though it had been accumulating for years. We could see bikes and trailers full of crap. 

Within a couple of weeks a fire started there above Yosemite, just below the illegal campsite, between highway 32 and Humboldt Road. The cause of that fire was never reported. Same with several other fires that have sprung up along Hwy 32 above Chico, including this fire that burned into Upper Park.

0925171119

Here we are just above Humboldt Road.

The trails that were burned in this fire last Septemeber have not been reopened, and as far as I can see they are not performing rehabilitation. 

So, excuse me if I cancelled my walk in the park with the park director. Herman actually spoke up at one morning meeting, telling the assemblage the city needs to pass a revenue measure. At that moment I couldn’t decide whether I admired her honesty or whether I was disgusted with her point blank greed. 

I’ve fallen onto disgust, at this point.

 

 

 

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