The American River Parkway

Posted on May 4, 2010 – 5:23 PM | by OldManFoster
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by Guphy Gustafson photos by Jesse Vasquez

No doubt y’all are just as sick of writers scoffing at the phrase “world class city” as you are of hearing it out of the mouths of our politicians. But I can’t let it go. Sorry readers, I just cannot let it go. Every person who has picked up a “women’s” magazine knows the importance of being attractive. They also may learn that the easiest way to do this is to play up your assets. So how can we apply this advice and turn Sacramento into a World Class Lady?

Question: What does Sacramento have that London, Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam do not? Answer: A natural river with a green belt (instead of being paved right up to the water) and an abundant habitat smack in the middle of an urban setting. The riparian vegetation and freshwater marsh of the American River Parkway is not only an unique feature that we are lucky to have here in Sacramento, it is a probably the largest protected example of a Central Valley vegetation that is disappearing. As written in Outdoor California from the late ‘80s, “Prior to 1950, over 800,000 acres in the Central Valley maintained a rich natural environment, but by 1985, 0.1% of that natural wealth remains.” We are talking about the valley’s native blue oak and interior oak woodland. Gone, nearly all gone. The American River Parkway is 23 miles long and is officially a Wild and Scenic River. The size of the parkway allows for larger animals to have homes within the parkway. It is nearly all native, it is free and available to all. Take that Cairo!

While walking along the parkway with my dog last winter (unleashed, I am a bit of a shun-piker, I am afraid) I realized how many times over our politicians would have sold that land to make a buck if it was allowed. The Lower American River could have easily become a place only the rich could enjoy.  Like Malibu. Thankfully, the parkway is there for all to enjoy. We are the beneficiaries of people who have worked hard to have that land locked away from greedy hands. I am beholden to those who came before us who made the parkway possible and I hope that people will continue to fight for this amazing piece of public land in the future.

One of these parkway heroes was Mayor Bert E. Geisreiter who only served from 1950 -51. During his brief tenure he facilitated the purchase of Paradise Beach and announced his dream of a publicly owned greens pace from Jibboom Street to Nimbus. Good ol’ Bert. The parkway didn’t officially get underway until 1964 and wasn’t completed with the gaps filled in until 1982. But the dream is much older, it actually goes all the way back to 1915, but you are going to have to look that up on your own.

Over the last 50 years, the parkway has nearly ceased to exist several times- in each case, the parkway was saved by tireless volunteers and advocates.   Elmer Aldrich was one such savior. A retired wildlife biologist for the state, Aldrich, along with others formed a group, The River Recreation and Parks Association, which wrote the original parkway proposal and presented it to the county board of supervisors. The group then bird-dogged the county and kept interest focused on the plan. Later, the Save the American River Association (SARA) was formed to continue to watch local governments in matters of the parkway. SARA is still active today.

Another parkway supporter was housewife and amateur filmmaker Jewell Dawson.   Faced with an imminent county vote on development vs. preservation of the parkway, Dawson volunteered to make a film about the parkway to present at the country board of supervisor’s meeting at which the vote would be taken. Working frantically for three weeks, Dawson arrived at the meeting to discover that they had already voted against funding the parkway. Dawson got down on her knees and begged to show her film. The members capitulated. After the film, the board voted again, this time deciding to support the parkway.

A longtime defender is Ron Suter, the former director of Sacramento County Parks,  who said, “people want to ‘improve it’, you can’t improve nature.” He is still serving on the American River Parkway Association. Don’t tell him my dog was off-leash, he would not be impressed. As much as I hate to admit it, he is right; dogs are the great habitat destroyers. Just check out my living room.

Recently, Tracey Martin Shearer, an American River College drama teacher, spearheaded an effort to buy undeveloped land on Fair Oaks bluffs. Shearer and her group, Citizens to Save the Bluffs, raised $735,000 from donors to buy a 2.2 acre parcel which was augmented by a $326,000 loan received by the Fair Oaks Park District. They successfully saved public access to the bluffs and are now working on amenity improvements. They host a full moon walk every month at moonrise. I also recommend floating by these dramatic bluffs in a canoe, a perfect way to appreciate the symbolic ancient oak growing there.

Our parkway offers recreational activities like bicycling, boating, fishing or hanging out in the river with tweakers, and riparian vegetation and habitat for smaller species as well as turkey, deer, mountain lions, and coyotes. It is home to the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle which is endangered (don’t squish, please.) Sacramento is favored with such an exceptional area, so go forth and promote it, cherish it and use the trash cans provided. It’s supposed to be nice this weekend, why not go hang out at a world class river?

The Save the American River Association (SARA)

Citizens to Save the Bluffs

Fair Oaks Bluff full moon walk schedule

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  1. 3 Responses to “The American River Parkway”

  2. avatar

    By brthomas on Nov 8, 2010 | Reply

    Many thanks to all of those who preserved it in the past so we could enjoy it now and in the future!!! I have many fond memories of innertubing and kayaking on the American River Parkway ~20 years ago. These river boating trips got me started on a hobby that I have enjoyed ever since.
    Boating Guide for American River Parkway – kayaking, innertubing, canoeing & rafting.
    American River Parkway Recreation and Conservation Websites.

  3. avatar

    By Tracy Martin Shearer on Jan 21, 2013 | Reply

    What a wonderful and informative article! I was honored to be on the list among those amazing people who have done so much for our beloved American River Parkway. For the sake of the record however, there is an unsung hero named Marty Maskall who not only became my more-than-equal partner in saving the bluffs, she also stuck with the project until all the donors had been properly commemorated. You can see her efforts (as well as those of Ralph Carhart and Hugh Gorman) in the lovely donor plaza now near the end of the bluffs by the foot bridge.

    So many people participated in Citizens to Save the Bluffs… more than can ever be mentioned here. They are the ones to thank, for they gave the effort life, strength and stamina. I will forever be grateful to Marty and to all who made it possible to save that precious piece of land for generations to come.

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