The American River Parkway: Part 2… Featuring Flowers

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

This beauty found along the American River Parkway in spring is the California Buckeye. Each individual flower is a potential buckeye.

The concept of creating the American River Parkway can be traced back as far as the 1920s, but the actual creation of the park took place in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Impetus came when land speculators begin buying up the relatively inexpensive land along the river for future development.

Conservation-minded visionaries of the time realized a regional treasure was about to be lost.  A prized riparian habitat of great beauty and recreational value to the community of Sacramento would soon give way to bulldozers, for sale signs, and limited public access. Armed with passion and facts, these early environmental leaders were able to persuade the City and County of Sacramento to create the parkway.

And for that, we owe the environmentalists and elected officials a deep vote of gratitude. The American River Parkway is an urban asset that few communities throughout the US, or for that matter around the world, can claim.

The battle to maintain the natural resources of the parkway continues. The balance between recreational use and protection of the riparian habitat is a delicate one. Tough financial times and deep budget cuts led local politicians to insist that the parkway pay more of its maintenance costs. And this, unfortunately, has led to a demand for increased recreational use to pick up the tab, which is threatening the natural environment. Birds, plants and animals don’t contribute to the public till, at least not directly. Nor do they vote.

Although free parks benefit everyone, there is nothing wrong with insisting that people who use the park help pay for its maintenance. And it is healthy that volunteers have stepped in to take up the slack created by fewer park staff. Continued government support is needed as well, however.

The City of Sacramento recently voted to spend $250 million dollars to build a basketball stadium downtown. While it isn’t my purpose to oppose the stadium, it does seem to me if local politicians can find money to support what is basically a private venture that will serve some 700 thousand basketball fans per year, they should be able to find funds to support the community’s greatest asset that serves 5 million people per year. And will continue to– far into the future. Don’t you think?

The American River Parkway is used by people of all ages and persuasions. Below is a photo of Peggy with her dad, John Dallen, on the river. When John and his wife Helen reached their mid-80s, their children– Peggy, Jane Hagedorn, and John Jr.– insisted that they come out and live in Sacramento. John Sr. was not happy leaving his nature walks behind in Florida so I started taking him out to the parkway on Wednesday mornings. He absolutely fell in love with it, and I like to believe that the parkway made his last years much happier. The experience reminded me just how valuable the parkway, and other such natural areas around the world , are to the billions of people who live in urban centers.

John Dallen and his daughter, Peggy Mekemson, on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.

John Dallen and Peggy Mekemson on the American River Parkway

Three community-based organizations work exclusively to preserve the American River Parkway and deserve public support.  These organizations are:

The Save the American River Association (SARA) was founded in the 1960s to advocate for the American River Parkway. Its mission “is to protect and enhance the wildlife habitat, fishery, and recreational resources of the American River Parkway.”

The American River Parkway Foundation (ARPF) “coordinates programs and works with volunteers to foster environmental stewardship, facilitate volunteer opportunities, as well as fund and implement Parkway projects.”

The American River Natural History Association (ARNHA), “supports educational and interpretive activities in the American River Parkway through operating and funding Effie Yeaw Nature Center, a program that introduces thousands of school children each year to the beauty and diversity of the American River Parkway.”

Each spring, the parkway bursts out in bloom. So my photographs this time will feature flowers of the American River Parkway.

California Buckeye trees along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Bursting with bloom, these buckeye trees are found at William Pond Park. A close up of the flowers is found above.

Almond tree blossoms along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Pioneer farmers once raised crops along what is now the parkway. These are blossoms from a remaining almond tree.

Dutchman's Pipe plant on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Dutchman’s Pipe is one of my favorite flowers. It obtained its name, so they say, by looking  like a Dutchman’s pipe.

Pipevine caterpillar dining on Dutchman Pipevine Plant on the American River Parkway.

Here we have the Pipevine Caterpillar chomping away on a pipevine plant.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on the American River Parkway

The caterpillar morphs into the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly. The pipevine plant is poisonous, which doesn’t harm the caterpillar or the butterfly, but does harm predators that might want to eat them.The distinct marking on the butterfly’s wings translates into an “eat me and die” sign. Other butterflies mimic the wings in hopes of taking advantage of the message..

Opening Jimsonweed flower on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Speaking of poisonous, this stunning flower belongs to the Jimsonweed plant, which is a member of the nightshade family. It is just opening up in this photo.

Jimsonweed flower on the American River Parkway.

Most people are more familiar with the flower looking like this, which is a perspective made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe. Note the extremely long pistil.

Evening Primrose found near the Effie Yeaw Nature Center on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An Evening Primrose, which I found near the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.

Scotch Broom found on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another yellow beauty, Scotch Broom. This plant was brought over from Scotland because of its beauty. Unfortunately it is a highly invasive plant that replaces native plants. Efforts are underway to eradicate it on the parkway.

Yellow Iris growing on the American River Parkway.

And a yellow iris.

Blue Elderberry flowers along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Elderberry flowers. The blue fruit of the plant was prized by  Native Americans. An elderly woman once tried to entice my father, who was in his late 70s at the time, by making him elderberry wine. He refused to comment on the success of the strategy.

Winter Vetch along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Another invader, winter vetch was originally brought in from Europe as a forage plant for livestock.

California Poppies and Winter Vetch growing together on the American River Parkway.

A mixed bouquet of California Poppies and Winter Vetch.

Plants don’t have to be flowering to be attractive, as the following photos demonstrate,

Seeding Milk Thistle plant on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This Milk Thistle is in the process of distributing its seeds. Note the insect that seems to fit right in.

Dried Milk Thistle on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An older Milk Thistle looking a bit ferocious. I think it would be interesting in a dried flower arrangement.

Dead leaves form a California Buckeye on the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

I found these dead leaves to be rather attractive as well. I believe they were on a buckeye tree.

Cluster of young, wild grapes found on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

You can see grapes developing on this wild cousin to domestic grapes.

I conclude this post with a wild rose.

I conclude this post with a wild rose.

28 comments on “The American River Parkway: Part 2… Featuring Flowers

  1. You make such a good point about the stadium vs. the park. But I suppose the stadium generates money. Too bad people’s health and well-being doesn’t equate to dollar signs in many people’s eyes.

  2. Spring in the parkway must be splendid! Great shots of the plants bursting into life. It’s a great shame about the broom, it does herald spring wherever you see it. Your comparison of the political will to fund a private ball park vs this magnificent public asset is telling.

  3. I’ve never seen the Dutchman’s pipe – what a wonderful flower. I loved the California poppies when I lived out there, and the photo of the newly-forming grapes is terrific. I like the way you’ve mixed the various life stages of the plants, too.

    As for the stadium – let’s just say I’ve grown increasingly cynical about the purported “value” of such things. The public may well benefit from the basketball venue, directly and indirectly. But there’s no question the developers will benefit. They never seem to lose. Unfortunately, in this part of the country, that’s led to strip mall after strip mall taking good land and then standing empty.

    • Isn’t the Dutchman’s Pipe marvelous, Linda? And some of the vines were loaded with caterpillars.

      The stadium issue isn’t a clear cut bargain for Sacramento. If I remember early articles I read, several cities never recovered their investments. But you are right, the developer and team owners always seem to come out ahead. –Curt

  4. Another gift of exploring the American River Parkway was encountering the wildlife along the way: flowers, trees, wildlife…all within an urban area. quite beautiful and calming and exciting and unique and surprising and…..I could go on and on……Peggy

  5. It’s nice to see so much life and color during this snowy winter. There’s such a variety and I love the Dutchman’s Pipe – I’ve never seen that before. I agree we need to set aside places like these and continue to protect them from too much civilization. The more things grow and change, the more these places are needed for our mental and physical health.

  6. Amazing photos, Curt. Very nicely included with your story. There always seems to be an audience of local pols for the glitzy. And what could be bigger for Sacramento than the NBA? I think the city planners should take a walk with you and your camera. You be the tour guide.

    • Thanks Bruce. Yeah, the Kings are big in Sacramento. I don’t have any problems with that, but I find it sad that the politicos don’t have the vision to support the parkway the way it needs to be supported. –Curt

  7. The birds and flowers don’t pay taxes and nature walks don’t do much for GDP. They are, however, far more valuable than any baseball stadium. Thanks for taking us along on the stroll. It truly is a wonderful community asset and I hope the good folks there will continue to recognize it as such.

  8. Curt, a heart warming story on John indeed…and the elderberry wine caper. Lol

    Our politicians – if they truly believe in representing their constituents – should also volunteer and do whatever it is (behind closed doors) they do…for free.

    And I hadn’t known wild roses existed.

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