Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bidwell Park, Chico

Main entry flanked by stone columns and accented by flowering Dogwood
Bidwell Park is the third largest urban park in the United States. It is a long, narrow park that starts in downtown not far from the Bidwell Mansion and extends for over five miles into wilderness. It has 68 miles of walking and bicycle trails. The lower portion of the park is closest to downtown and is the most developed with several entry points from adjacent residential neighborhoods. The main entry is off South Park Drive west of Mangrove Avenue. This entry is flanked by a pair of simple, rough-hewn, granite columns, each topped with a stout, rectangular light.

Amenities in the lower portion of the park include picnic facilities, open lawn areas, a baseball field, horseshow pits, a themed children’s play area called “Caper Acres”, and by far my favorite feature - Sycamore swimming pool formed by the damming of Chico Creek. The water flows rapidly through the pool, which is about 600 feet in length and 95 feet wide, and then exits via a spillway at the east end. A footbridge crosses over the spillway. Native sycamore trees line one side of the pool.

Enticing Sycamore pool is fed by Big Chico Creek

The middle portion of the park consists of trails and a single, one-way drive that lie beneath a continuous canopy of trees. Summer temperatures in Chico are typically in the 100s so these trees and the swimming pool are essential amenities. Tree species are predominantly valley oak (Quercus lobata), and native sycamore (Platanus racemosa). The understory is mostly grasses, willow and spice bush (Calycanthus occidentalis). Big Chico Creek continues through the middle and upper portions of the park, and there are individual picnic facilities along the drive, each with a barbeque.

Paths throughout the park are shaded by mature trees

Facilities in the Upper portion of the park include an 18-hole golf course, a driving range, an observatory, a fishing pier, Horseshoe Lake, picnic facilities, and equestrian trails. Just east of Manzanita Avenue is the Hooker Oak Picnic Area – named for the Hooker Oak – the largest known valley oak until it fell in a 1977 storm. The entire park has a rustic, informal quality. There is very little irrigated, mown lawn. Instead the park brings the wilderness into downtown.

Annie Bidwell donated the land to the people of Chico in 1905 for a public park. She said at the time that the grant followed the desire of her late husband. In subsequent years she made additional donations to expand the park. This generous gift is the heart of Chico – a treasure enjoyed and appreciated by visitors and residents – particularly on hot summer days. If you plan a visit and go in summer I dare you to resist a plunge into Sycamore Pool.

Much of the park consists of a continuous canopy of trees with grasses below

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