Guest comment: Don’t let it burn

A few years ago at an election forum, Chico City Council candidates were asked how they would direct resources to Bidwell Park. One candidate, who shall remain nameless, laughed at the question. “There’s no money for that,” he muttered.

On June 18, the Chico Elks Lodge parking lot was filled with fire engines, crews and their police escort, having worked through the night to protect our town after a predictable trigger. A human being, intentionally or not, caused a fire at Bear Hole after 9 p.m., which used to be the park’s closing time. That fire destroyed a huge swath of land.

Robert Gregg

Post-blaze, city planners and officials should do a cost-benefit analysis in short order: What did the response cost? Then there’s the less quantifiable costs, including residents losing a night of sleep and children losing access to Monkey Face and the trails off the North Rim for the foreseeable future.

It’s time for an Upper Bidwell Park user fee, just like at the state parks, to offset the costs of adequately patrolling the space. Such revenue would allow the city to perform sweeps to actually close the park at 9 p.m., as well as enforce other laws already on the books. This includes the ban on smoking, the proper use of its one-way streets and the policy that requires dogs to be leashed after 8:30 a.m. in Lower Park.

Again, the problem is not that we’re lacking laws. It’s that enforcement has been selective because “there’s no money for that.”

In short, it’s time for an ounce of prevention to save our community, rather than letting things take their own course. The job of city planner includes the word plan in it, which means determining the best way to use a city’s land and its resources. Such work is especially critical in terms of wildfire prevention.

Bidwell Park is an amazing resource, preserved in many places since people began using it thousands of years ago. My message to the city’s elected officials and administrators: Kindly don’t sit on the sidelines as it burns to the ground.

Born and raised in Chico, the author returned to his hometown in 2013.

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1 Comment

  1. This breaks my heart to read. I have often wondered how Upper Park has held up in the face of horrific fire danger. I was hoping all was well, even though homes now line the ridge (from what I have read).

    If space permitted, I would share a mediation as the moon rose over the ridge and the mist of a Decembers’ eve rose from the lava-rocked canyon below. Without question, magical and forever a part of me.

    The question is, can an entry fee save the park?

    How I miss my time in Upper Park, and the summer, too. The heat of the sun and the cold of a mountain stream, an adventure like no other. The area was a right of passage for rich and poor alike. I, too, had my doubts, of course: “Naked? Are you kidding me?” But, what can I say, other than it was naturally intoxicating? I could not get enough of Upper Bidwell Park.

    That freedom, though, the ability to bask in the sauna-like sun with a cold-water tank roaming free (along with trout scooping up flies floating in the quiet eddies), is just a part of it. It is about wild places, and while Upper Park was far from wild, even back in the 1970s, it merited the respect of all who entered, clothed, or unclothed.

    If an entry fee saves it for future generations, well, then I say go for it. Now, can someone stop it from becoming an arena, or worse, someone’s private backyard? If homes are still sprouting on the ridge overlooking the area and other locations surrounding the park, how long will it be before it becomes a private golf course? If that ever happens, all I can say is: Yuck!

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