Flowers bloom between grape vines in Sonoma in early February. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The calendar says spring is going to arrive next week.
Depending on where you live it looks and feels a lot more like winter and that spring’s arrival will be in the distant future. That’s what happens when there is record snowfall, like what Tahoe has experienced this year.
Those in the flatlands, though, are already delighting in the green hills. Mustard and daffodils are a vibrant yellow, with some already running their course. The almond blossoms are past their peak and will soon be off the trees, ready for the nuts to take hold. Other trees are just beginning to bud.
Spring, outside of snow country, is about life, birth and new beginnings.
The spring equinox in March and autumn equinox in September are the only times when the Northern and Southern hemispheres have essentially equal amounts of day and night.
This is when the sun is directly over the equator, so the earth is not tilting toward or away from the sun.
And it’s the one day when the sunrise will be due east and the sunset due west.
The spring equinox is also known as the vernal equinox.
Paradise Recreation and Park District has plans to increase opportunities throughout its jurisdiction. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Paradise is thriving. All one has to do is listen to Dan Efseaff to know this is true.
Efseaff, who has more than 20 years of experience as a restoration ecologist and land manager, is district manager for the Paradise Recreation and Park District. It’s a job he took about 16 months before the devastating 2018 Camp Fire that charred so much of the land that he oversees.
In January he led a group of curious people through several of the parks in his district. This was one of the field trips during the annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway. Most of us on the expedition were from Butte County, though one couple was from Davis and one woman was from the Bay Area.
Efseaff is a believer in defensible, saying that is why the Terry Ashe Recreation Center in the middle of town survived.
Dan Efseaff, who leads Paradise’s parks department, talks about improvements coming to Bille Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As his department works on plans for what the park system will look like in the coming years, Efseaff wants to create “buffers” that will ideally lessen the impact of future fires. These can be hardscapes, and include ridding an area of flammable invasive plants as well as trimming up ladder fuels.
Fire management comes in many forms, with the rec department an advocate for using goats to munch down flammable flora. March 25 marks the second annual Paradise Grazing Festival.
A pavilion stands at Bille Park that during the Camp Fire became a shelter for about 100 people from the neighborhood. People eventually broke into the building where they were protected from the 50 mph winds, and 70 mph gusts.
“There are a lot of things we can do infrastructure-wise in the future. We need to think how else we would use buildings beyond their main purpose,” Efseaff said.
Bille Park in some ways is more like a traditional city park, though parts of it are rugged—because, well, that’s the natural landscape. By fall a new trail to a grotto should be finished. An ADA compliant trail will be built to a lookout over the canyon where a house once sat. The woman who lost her home left the parcel to the park district with the belief, according to Efseaff, that everyone should enjoy that view.
Coutolenc Park is ripe for opportunities for hikers and mountain bikers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Paradise represents only 10 percent of the park district, according to Efseaff. His staff is responsible for 172 square miles, with acreage going almost to Stirling City, so it includes Magalia, out to Concow and borders Chico.
At the next stop we see an abundance of serpentine rock, California’s state rock. This is off Coutolenc Road. The green reminds me a bit of sandstone in color, but it’s nothing like it in composition.
We cross the street where we can see the Magalia Reservoir and dam. The goal is that Lake Ridge Park (the name may change) will be built in 2027-28. Plans are for it to have a ballpark, welcome center, bike course, ziplines, and more than 15 miles of trails that loop out to Paradise Lake.
Expansion of the old Butte County railway into a multi-use trail is on the district’s master plan.
The pavilion and adjacent building at Bille Park became a refuge for people during the 2018 Camp Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Coutolenc Park is the largest undeveloped park the district manages. It’s just a bunch of trees, many of them burned. The potential for miles and miles of trails is intriguing. It might be worth coming back with a mountain bike, especially an e-bike.
The district owns this 330-acre park through a land patent with the Bureau of Land Management. This means the BLM retained the timber and mining rights. That in part is why it looks the way it does–like a ravaged, unkempt forest.
“They left us a mess,” Efseaff said. “We will clean it up. We will probably do a broadcast burn in the next year with torches. We need to get this burned and make it a healthy forest.” He was pointing to the growth of flammables like ceanothus and manzanita.
“I’d like to see it go from a conifer to an oak forest that is maintained by fire,” he said. “Within 20 years this could be a healthy forest, a park-like setting.”
Efseaff is a believer that fire is good. Just not fire that burns hot and out of control like the wildfires that have engulfed so much of the state in the last few years. Managed fire, that’s what his department embraces.
At Paradise Lake, not far up the road from Coutolenc Park, are more opportunities for the park district. It has only recently been responsible for recreation here.
Creating event camping and expanding kayaking opportunities are on the drawing board. The old caretaker’s house will be repurposed for public use.
Throughout the excursion Efseaff was always hopeful of what the charred and not burned lands will look like in the future. The array of planned trails should make any outdoor enthusiast ecstatic. It was encouraging to hear about a vision focused on the future and life after destruction.
Black Butte is in the foreground with the coastal range in the distance covered in snow. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Snow isn’t usually the focal point when the highest elevation of the hike is 764 feet.
But it was on this last Saturday of February. The bitter cold storm that inundated all of California brought the white stuff to sea level.
While there were splotches of snow along the trail, the bulk of what was of interest was in the distance, enshrouding the coastal range.
Mother Nature is one interesting creature.
While the 16 of us from Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers were bundled up to ward off the 40-something degree temps (who knows what it was with the wind chill), a few wildflowers were holding on for dear life. Field marigolds, blue dicks, and dicots dominated the landscape.
The scenery at Black Butte Lake is a mix of rock, grass, flowers and water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A couple more weeks and it is sure to be a carpet of color here in the green grasses that are set against the dark basalt rock.
Black Butte Lake near Orland was formed in 1963 when Black Butte Dam on Stony Creek was built. When full it has a surface area of 4,460 acres.
“The dam reduces flood risk for the surrounding communities and provides irrigation water to agricultural lands immediately downstream of the dam,” according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
On our 5.2 mile hike we barely touched the numerous trails. After all, the lake is 7 miles long and has a shoreline of 40 miles.
The view of Black Butte Lake, the butte and the coastal range from the parking lot. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
After crossing the paved dam we headed up a mostly single-track route that was a mix of hardpack dirt and basalt rock. Our destination was the top of Black Butte.
The views here are stunning. Even more amazing, though, is one would not have to set foot on any trail because the vista from the parking lot is outstanding.
Once at the top of the butte, instead of going back the way we came we headed over the other side onto what really wasn’t a trail. I would not need to do this route again because of the hidden rocks under the grass and slickness of the wet ground.
Still, we were thrilled to be out on the blustery day seeing terrain most of us had never visited before.
Paradise Lake has more than 7 miles of shoreline. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It doesn’t take long to get out of the flatlands of Chico and be surrounded by pines. In 20 minutes it’s like you are in a different world.
Welcome to Paradise—elevation about 2,000 feet, with conifers the dominant flora.
Walking along Paradise Lake it’s like being transported to the mountains. It’s magical in many ways, especially with there being no evidence right at the lake of the devastating 2008 Camp Fire.
A few of us are out on this first day of the new year. It’s a wonderful way to start the year—hiking a little more than 5 miles in a rather secluded area. Much of the trail is wide enough for the two of us.
Most of the dirt trail is flat and meanders along the lake. When the water isn’t visible the tall trees envelop us.
A kayaker and fisherman are out enjoying the tranquil waters.
In some ways this 204-acre lake is reminiscent of Jenkinson Lake near Sly Park in El Dorado County.
The Paradise Lake trail goes along the east shore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Paradise Recreation and Park District has been responsible for the recreation amenities and operations since June 2020. Prior to that the Paradise Irrigation District took care of everything at the Butte County facility.
The 84 acres available for fun include walking trails, picnic area, two boat launches, fishing, and kayak rentals when it’s warm.
However, with the primary purpose being the water supply for nearby residents, that means motorboats are not allowed. Dogs, horses and swimming are also not allowed.
This is one of two reservoirs providing water to the surrounding community. Paradise lake contains about 11,500 acre-feet of water. Magalia Reservoir is smaller, with a capacity of 796 acre-feet. It is along Little Butte Creek downstream from Paradise Lake. Paradise Dam separates the two bodies of water. No fishing or recreation is allowed at the smaller body of water.
Waterfowl on Jan. 21 at Llano Seco south of Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s not your imagination. As the sun sets, bird calls do get louder.
If only I knew what these animals were saying. They seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the people who were watching and listening.
A spectacular sunset danced along the wetlands at Llano Seco. Some of the birds huddled together in the water, while others took to the sky. It was hard to know where to look, but wherever my eyes landed I was almost on sensory overload.
Birds find safety in a protected, non-hunting area of the Pacific Flyway. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
“Dim light is classified as low-intensity light, which causes birds to erupt into birdsong. Some daytime birds become nighttime singers. Birds like the thrush, dunnock, robin, and other similar species can sometimes be heard continuing their songs well into the darkened evening and night,” according to BirdWatchingPro.com.
Llano Seco, which is about 10 miles south of Chico, is one of three units of the 9,600 acre Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area. Llano Seco has 765 acres open to the public, while 967 acres are off-limits as they are designated a sanctuary.
As the temperature drops, waterfowl find warmth in the water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
“Historically, this basin consisted of a braided network of sloughs, channels, and oxbows resulting from the meanderings of the Sacramento River and Butte Creek, and comprised a significant portion of the wetland habitat available for wintering migratory birds. Today it is still considered one of the finest wetland habitat complexes in North America. The wildlife area was created to protect and/or restore some of these historical wetlands,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
One of the reasons the Sacramento River is considered California’s most important river is because of its riparian habitat.
This swath of land in the Central Valley is part of the much larger Pacific Flyway that goes from Alaska to South America.
An array of birds make a stop near Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The festival’s website says, “Millions of birds representing hundreds of species use this great avian highway each year, and nowhere is this abundance of wildlife more accessible than right here in the northern Sacramento Valley. With an ideal combination of mild winter weather, abundant food and rich quantities of water, the area attracts a huge wintering population of waterfowl and raptors. A local favorite among these is the majestic snow goose. With the estimated overall population of snow geese exceeding 5 million, as many as 1.5 million use the Pacific Flyway. Tens of thousands of these will winter right here in our own backyard.”
While there are a slew of events during the four-day festibal, most of which cost money, the birds put on a free show every day—and night.
Phantom Falls at Table Mountain on Jan. 15 dance in the wind. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It won’t take much effort to search for waterfalls this year. Water is flowing in some unusual places thanks to all the rain that has been dropping on California and points east.
Table Mountain’s magic was on display Jan. 15 and will likely continue for weeks to come.
According to Explore Butte County, the local tourism agency, 14 waterfalls can flow at Table Mountain after a major rainstorm. The larger ones will continue to drip water into April in a normal year.
Ravine Falls cascades with power. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s too soon to know if Mother Nature’s spigot will stay in the on position or if she has let everything out. Either way, it’s not too early to seek out waterfalls.
At Table Mountain this weekend various parts of the trail were flowing with water, thus necessitating jumping, rock hopping and getting one’s feet wet.
I’m very much a “better than fair weather” outdoorswoman these days, so the fact that I was even outside when the forecast was for rain was surprising in itself. But I couldn’t handle one more day inside.
Water runs across several places along the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Plenty of other people had the same idea, as the parking lot at this Butte County ecological reserve run by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was fuller than I expected. Not like when the wildflowers are out, but still, impressive based on the weather.
Witnessing Ravine and Phantom falls on this grey, blustery day was worth enduring the cold, blowing rain for half of the nearly five-mile round trip excursion.
Last March when I did a similar hike it took some effort to see Phantom Falls, as it was living up to its name. One could barely see a dark on the rock that day, signifying where a trickle of water still flowed.
This week there were two distinct waterfalls tumbling down from the rocks, making me wonder what the other one is called or if both are Phantom Falls.
Ravine Falls from the far side of the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Table Mountain is aptly named—a mountain (remember I most recently live in Tahoe, so calling it a mountain seems exaggerated) that is flat as a table at the top. It’s distinguishable from afar.
Because of its flatness, the water coming to create Phantom Falls seems illusory. Getting up closer you see the small stream coming across the “table” that then spills over the rock face into Coal Canyon.
Ravine Falls this year is also raging. Fourteen months ago a few strands of water trickled down the moss covered wall which required some imagination to know it can be an actual waterfall.
One of the great things about Ravine Falls is being able to see it from the top and bottom, making the grandeur of it even more spectacular.
We opted to head back a different route that took us essentially across the top of Ravine instead of going to the bottom again. The trail was kind of obvious, kind of a cross country crap shoot. It’s flat, exposed rock and short grass, so it wasn’t like there was any chance of getting lost. Plus, we weren’t the only ones with this idea.
As beautiful as it was, hiking in the rain is not going to be a regular thing for me.
Hiking in Upper Bidwell Park can feel remote. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The problem with going down first is that the end of the hike will be uphill.
Even knowing this ahead of time didn’t stop me from being a bit whiny as I trudged up the hill. Good thing no one was around me—I was that slow on this particular day. Some days are like that, where it’s like you are not firing on all cylinders.
It didn’t matter, I loved that I was seeing areas of Chico’s Upper Bidwell Park I had not been to. We started on the Guardian Trail, which had us going downhill quickly. Considering the highest point of the whole route was our beginning and ending points, downhill had to be the first thing we would do.
Big Chico Creek flows through Upper Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Then we got on to Bloody Pin; never a good name for a trail.
The weekend before this hike in October the Bidwell Bump Mountain Bike Race took place. I was looking at the steeps, the narrowness, the turns and just hoping I didn’t slip in my hiking boots. No way would I ride there—even with body armor, aka fully padded protective gear and helmet.
While the grasses were brown this time of year, the scenery was still spectacular. For a hike that is not far out of town, it is amazing how remote it felt.
At times the vastness could be seen for miles. Other times the trail was narrow and the foliage dense.
A short section of the trail is wooded and feels enclosed. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Our leader, Kristin, pointed out where a waterfall flows during the winter and spring if there has been enough rain. On this particular day we had to use our imagination for what it would look like.
We wrapped up the day by going across Legacy Trail before heading up Ten Mile to Green Gate, which was our starting point.
Green Gate, which is also known as Ten Mile House Road, off of Highway 32 is where we started. The “we” was the Chico Orville Outdoor Adventurers. We finished the morning hiking 5.21 miles, with an elevation gain of 893 feet. The lowest point was 690 feet and highest was 1,533 feet.
City of Chico employees make tennis and pickleball impossible. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
First there were eight, then six, and now there are four. In this case, less is not more.
That is the plight of public tennis courts in Chico.
And really, the number of courts available at 20th Street is three because the first court is for the pro, so it is not available all the time.
While tennis loses a third of its courts, the number of pickleball courts is doubling. Four pickleball courts can go on one tennis court.
The reason tennis players lost the first two courts was pickleball. Same reason this go-round.
What is really sad is that no one will be playing on these deconstructed courts for several months. That’s because the wonderful people who make decisions regarding Chico parks thought it a brilliant idea to start the project at the end of October. They are not playable for either sport today.
A sign says, “Project Begins: October 27 … Project Complete: Due to inclement weather, project delayed until spring 2023.”
What the hell?
What kind of incompetence is this? Who doesn’t look at the weather forecast before starting an outdoor project? Why start something if you can’t finish it in a timely manner?
There is a QR code on the sign as though one could get more information about the project. The link goes to the city’s recreation site with information about other projects, but nothing is there about the tennis courts.
Just another sad, disappointing day in the life of a tennis player.