Once a bath house, this is now a nature center in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Days gone by and current events were fused into one outing recently in Oroville.

The hiking group leader had us meet at the Oroville Nature Center, which I didn’t even know existed, before we began our trek to the spillway of the Oroville Dam.

The grounds at the Oroville nature center. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Oroville is full of history, which I am slowly discovering.

Long before the Oroville Dam was completed in 1967 the Feather River flowed unencumbered through this Butte County city.  This area was home to the Maidu Indians; they would fish for salmon and lived off native berries, acorns and grasses.

Then the white people more than disrupted their lives. They saw the river and turned the land into farms. When gold was discovered in the Feather River in 1949, well, there was definitely no going back.

The Feather River is not this tranquil in every location. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“The miners soon overran the area, driving the native people into the hills,” according to information at the nature center. “The miners would float their ore and logs for lumber down the river to the beach near the ferry to be taken ashore. A few years later, a covered bridge was built where the old ‘Green Bridge’ is now.”

As part of the federal Works Projects Administration during the Depression a bath house for men and women was built steps from the river in 1935; this area became Oroville’s first public park.

“In December 1937, there was a very bad flood that did major damage to the surrounding area. The sandy beach was washed out, and an undertow current replaced it,” reads information from the nature center. “The flood waters went right through the bath house and also washed away the caretaker’s cottage. With the swimming hole and beach gone, the bath house, although undamaged, was abandoned.”

Hikers stroll past wildflowers like this dichelostemma along the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The stone structure crumbled through the decades to the point that by the 1980s not much of it was standing. The city was ready to tear it down completely. Locals said don’t you dare. Local Rex Burress is credited with the idea of turning the structure into a nature center by restoring the building, walkways and planters. Community cleanup began in 1996.

Now the center, which was restored with and by donations and volunteers, is open to the public. Inside it’s more like a museum. The outside is a peaceful oasis. It’s goal is “to bring people and nature together.”

From here we drove a short ways down the same road to begin the hike. We started on the Brad Freeman Trail, which wanders through grassy areas that had a few wildflowers blooming on the last Saturday of April.

Some of the time we were next to the river, other times a little ways away to the point you didn’t even know it was so close.

Water flows from the Oroville spillway in late April. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Soon glimpses of the spillway came into view. As we kept walking its thundering roar took over. Then it was right in front of us.

While I’ve seen the spillway in action the last two springs, this afforded the opportunity to be a bit closer because of being right on the river.

The dam was built primarily for flood control purposes. That flood that swept through the bath house (now nature center) wasn’t a fluke in the 1930s. It was the norm. That history, though, should never repeat itself based on modern engineering.

Pin It on Pinterest