The American River Parkway… Sacramento’s Greatest Treasure: Part 1

The American River as it flows through William Pond Park on the American River Parkway.

The City and County of Sacramento, with strong urging by local citizen groups, made the decision in the 1960s and 70s to create a corridor along the American River that would protect its natural beauty and create recreation opportunities for the people of Sacramento for generations to come. This photo was taken in William Pond Park looking upriver.

“The American River Parkway is a true treasure in the landscape of Sacramento. The parkway is a 23 mile, 4,600-acre expanse of land, water and nature. Our forefathers were smart in wanting to protect this wonderful resource hence creating a regional park.”      American River Parkway Foundation

I was in Sacramento last week and decided to go for a hike on the American River Parkway. It wasn’t my first. If you count the years it was my primary bike route into town, I estimate I’ve been out on the parkway at least 2000 times. Beyond biking, the parkway served as my escape to the woods when I needed a quick break from the city, which was often. So I know a bit about it.

Drought and tight government budgets had taken their toll on the parkway, but it was still beautiful and crowded with visitors. (Some five million people use the parkway annually, which is as many who stop off at the Grand Canyon.)

I wandered along and happily visited my old haunts– first checking out William Pond Park and then hiking across the Harold Richey Memorial Bridge to River Bend Park. I once had a five-mile route that wound through the two parks. This time I kept it to three.

William Pond was the Director of Parks during the 1960s when the parkway was first proposed. This is the pond in William Pond Park. I cal it  William Pond Pond.

William Pond was the Director of Sacramento County Parks during the 1960s when the parkway was first proposed. This is the pond in William Pond Park. I call it William Pond Pond.

Reflection pool created by spring rains along the American River Parkway in Sacramento. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Springtime rains provide more opportunities for reflection shots along the American River Parkway.

Staring into shallow rapids can be a form of meditation. Arising from the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains, the American River is noted for its pure water.

Staring into shallow rapids can be a form of meditation. Arising from the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains, the American River is noted for its pure water.

Cliff swallows nesting under a bridge on the American River Parkway.

I found these baby cliff swallows nesting under the Harold Richey bridge that connects William Pond and River Bend Parks. Note the big mouths and tight fit.

This thumb sized spider lived up on the bridge between the metal railings and competed with the swallows for insects.

This large spider lived up on the bridge between the metal railings and competed with the swallows for insects. It was busily wrapping up its latest catch.

Woodland park on American River Parkway in Sacramento. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An inviting woodland found in River Bend Park. It always made me think of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest.

I decided the Parkway would make a good post. Photos weren’t an issue. In fact, I have too many. I’d carried a camera on many of my outings during the 2000’s before Peggy and I took off on our three-year road trip in 2007.  Most of the photos on this post are from that time period.

Since I have been out of touch with the parkway for several years, I jumped online to do some research. That’s where I came across the above quote from the American River Parkway Foundation. The Foundation is a good organization, and I was happy to steal its quote, but I got a little hung up over the use of forefathers. Like I know what forefathers are– they are old, really old, like Mayflower old. I think you have to be dead to qualify.

And I was around when much of the parkway was being developed. In 1970 I served as the first Executive Director of Sacramento’s Ecology Information Center. I then went on to co-found the Environmental Council of Sacramento and, along with Bruce Kennedy, create an organization that supported local candidates based on their environmental stands. Each of these organizations provided strong support for the parkway, which put me in regular contact with the ‘forefathers,’ and brings me to the case in point. I may be older than your average John Doe, but I am not Mayflower old, or dead, for that matter.

I am just kidding about the forefather bit, of course, having some fun at the expense of the Foundation. Like I said, they are good kids. They should add foremothers to their list, however. In my next blog, I’ll talk more about the importance of the parkway to Sacramento and about the organizations that support it. But now it’s time to head out to the park.

Numerous hiking trails introduce visitors to the beauty and natural history of the American River Parkway. I took this photo in Effie Yeaw Park.

Numerous hiking trails introduce visitors to the beauty and natural history of the American River Parkway. I took this photo in Effie Yeaw Park.

Valley oaks on the American River Parkway in Sacramento.

The parkway is noted for its magnificent valley oaks. Peggy’s sister and my good friend, Jane Hagedorn, has a grove of oaks named after her in the parkway honoring her efforts in protecting Sacramento’s environment and in promoting the planting of trees throughout the urban area.

Leafy valley oaks on the American River Parkway.

Adding a lush green in summer…

Valley Oak on American River Parkway in winter.

…valley oaks take on a more stark beauty in winter.

Canadian Geese on the American River Parkway.

The area supports abundant wildlife including this family of Canadian Geese.

Mallard ducks on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.

A pair of mallard ducks keep an eye on me. I was particularly taken by the male’s yellow slit. I’d say that it is a ‘don’t mess with me’ look.

Brush rabbit on American River Parkway.

A brush rabbit pauses in his busy rounds. Rabbits, deer, beaver, coyotes, and a number of other animals call the parkway home. Once, I even came across cougar tracks.

Wasp on American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I considered this wasp a photo-op. It is actually on the opposite side of the leaf, outlined by the sun.

NEXT BOG: A continuing look at the parkway with a focus on flowers. The California Poppy below is to serve as an introduction– and to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day.

California Poppy on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

33 comments on “The American River Parkway… Sacramento’s Greatest Treasure: Part 1

  1. Curtis: The parkway has been a Pleasure also. Mary Carol and I would like to visit you and Peg in March. When would be a good time? Thank you, Marvin.

      • I know you are right! My place is so pretty I thought about removing this older home and adding a long real long ranch with ease of access and make homes for those on fixed income and watch over them as they enjoy the views from about the very active woods and stream 🙂 I am grandfathered when it comes to zoning so I thought it would be a way to leave something for those who have no one.

  2. Sir, you and Peggy have enjoyed a truly remarkable and fulfilling life. At times, it appears that you were indeed able to mix pleasure and work together and rewardingly. Congratulations.

    Although you mention these photos are from your archives, they do not change in that they are wonderful. The picture of the baby swallows was superb as well as that of the wasp. It looked like a big sucka.

    Spiders? They give me the willies. 🙂

    • I have always been a firm believer in mixing work and pleasure, Koji. More importantly, I’ve been able to get away with it, for the most part. 🙂 Wasn’t the wasp shot fun? I am always delighted to find photo-ops like that. –Curt

      • You are fortunate, sir, indeed. And yes, the wasp capture was an incredible Kodak moment. Just the fact it stopped there long enough for you to take the shot and clearly is stellar!

  3. After twenty years or so of having mallards as my dockmates, I can tell you something interesting about that slitty yellow “eye” the boy duck seemed to be giving you. That’s not his eye! It’s an eyelid – of which they have three. They all have brown eyes, but the third eyelid can appear white or yellow. I can’t remember all the details, but I know that they can blink it multiple times per second to protect the eye by keeping irritants out.

    I knew I’d have reason to share that fact some day. You probably knew it, but some others might not.

    All of the photos are gorgeous. I was startled to read that 5 million people a year come to this place, but after seeing the images, I’m not surprised.

    I especially enjoyed the swallows. I work in one marina which has floating docks. They’re very well built, and every year swallows build nests on the underside. Because the docks float there’s no fear of flooding, and the parents have a straight shot into the nests at about a foot above the water. It’s fun to watch people walk down the dock, hear the peeping of the babies, and look all around, trying to figure out where they are. Safe – that’s where they are. 🙂

    • Didn’t know the information about the yellow eyelid, Linda. Next time one gives me the eyelid, I’ll know he doesn’t mean anything by it. And here I thought I was getting the evil eye. –Curt

  4. A favorite memory was taking a group of students from my elementary school (I was the principal at the time.) for a hike along the river. Many had never visited this gem and could not believe that we were in the middle of Sacramento! Perhaps a few left with a vision of protecting it in the future! Peggy

  5. Curt, I’m always pleased to see riverside paths/greenways that are heavily utilized. (Up on soapbox) I’ve been to so many places that have wonderful rivers flowing right through town, and they aren’t developed. I can never understand this. They seem like a perfect quality of life enhancement for any town. (Off soapbox)

  6. Hooray for the foresight and enterprise of the ‘forefathers’ of Sacramento including your own contribution. Would that more communities had taken up this idea. The shallow rapids took me straight back to my canoeing days, I never felt more alert than when paddling along a fast river watching for hazards (in a wood and canvas canoe). Not sure Robin Hood would recognise your forest, his would not have had that lush grass cover… Love the wasp/leaf photo. Thanks and look forward to the next instalment.

    • That is one of the more shallow parts of the river, Hilary. Hundreds, probably thousands, raft down the river annually. Peggy and I have kayaked it. I can understand your concern in paddling a wood and canvass canoe!

      Ah, sorry about the Robin Hood bit. I did mention it was my fantasy, didn’t I. 🙂 Two years ago Peggy and I rented a narrow boat and went putting along the canals up near Sherwood. That was a fun adventure. –Curt

  7. Beautiful photos and interesting commentary. My favorites are the spider, and baby birds. Having a cross section of the flora, fauna and critters, gives a good real look at the area. Thank you.

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