Category Archives: Bike Trail

Lower American River contains unsafe levels of E. coli. Are homeless camps to blame?

Levels of E. coli bacteria found in the lower American River exceed the federal threshold for safe recreational use, in part due to human waste from homeless camps, state regulators say.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed adding the bacteria to a list of pollutants that make the lower American River a federally designated impaired water body. A state board is expected to sign off on the decision later this year and ask for final approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

E. coli can sicken and even kill people who swim in or drink contaminated water. State regulators say they’re not aware of anyone who has been sickened by E. coli in the the lower American River, but nearly a decade of test data indicate the risk of exposure.

“It should give people some discomfort about using the water – it’s not good,” said Ron Stork of Friends of the River.

A report summarizing test results from 2007 to 2014 found average levels of E. coli at three sites that were higher than the EPA standard, “beyond which the water body is not recommended for recreation.” The three sites are in the westernmost section of the American River Parkway, near downtown Sacramento, where the highest concentration of homeless camps are set up.

Seventeen of the 25 test sites had at least one recording in excess of the federal threshold, according to the “Safe-to-Swim Assessment.”

Thousands of people use the lower American River each year, from the boaters who launch at Discovery Park, to the swimmers who enjoy the beach at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, to the triathletes who participate in Eppie’s Great Race.

“My concern is that it could make me sick,” said Alex McDonald, who was sitting in the water with his wife at Sutter’s Landing last week. “I would like to know more.”

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Bad news for bikers: Slide danger likely will keep American River trail closed till 2018

A section of the American River Parkway recreation trail that was closed nine months ago by a large landslide likely will not be repaired and reopened until late next spring or summer, state parks officials say.

The lengthy closure has prompted complaints from cyclists and others, but state parks officials say the situation is far from simple or safe.

Mounds of dirt and rock are lying on the trail alongside Lake Natoma in Orangevale since heavy January and February rains caused slices of the hillside to slide. Officials say the cliff above the trail is still unstable and will require stabilizing before cleanup can begin.

State parks does not have the expertise to handle the job, so it is in negotiations with Caltrans, an agency that has a lot of experience dealing with landslides and unstable slopes, according to Richard Preston, the Folsom area state parks superintendent.

The two agencies are close to signing an agreement, he said. Caltrans will assess the hillside safety. That may mean sending workers rappelling down the 70-foot cliff to get closer look, Preston said.

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The state must conduct an environmental impact report, including an analysis of how the project might affect Lake Natoma.

Supervisors OK effort to clean up American River Parkway’s homeless camps

Sacramento County supervisors on Wednesday approved a $5 million plan to beef up patrols along the American River Parkway and clean up its homeless encampments.

The 3-2 vote came after dozens of residents packed the supervisors’ chambers to support or denounce the proposal to add park rangers, maintenance staff and sheriff’s employees to the 23-mile “jewel of Sacramento” and adjacent neighborhoods.

Some speakers recounted bad interactions with homeless people. Others expressed compassion for the homeless but said they wanted a clean, safe parkway. Still others denounced the proposal as “criminalizing the homeless.”

Supervisors Phil Serna, Don Nottoli and Patrick Kennedy voted for the measure. Supervisors Susan Peters and Sue Frost voted against it, citing concerns about funding.

Kennedy said the issue is “a tale of two tragedies” – homelessness and the condition of the parkway. “I think (the plan) is a little heavy on the law enforcement side, and I fear it will just move people around,” Kennedy said. “But we have to try something … It’s devastating. We just can’t let (the parkway) continue to deteriorate.”

Aimee Rutledge, head of the Sacramento Valley Conservancy, said the conservancy’s property, Camp Pollock, is at “ground zero” in the lower reaches of the river with a clear view of the degradation of a precious natural resource. “To abandon (the parkway) would be to abandon the best part of Sacramento,” she said.

Last month, supervisors asked staff to find ways to fund additional employees for animal control, waste collection and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Team.

Staff members found several sources of funding but not enough to cover the full costs of the program. Staff laid out options costing $3 million, $4 million and $5 million, which had $1.4 million, $2.9 million and $3.8 million funding gaps. Going forward, the funding gaps increase to $1.8 million, $3.2 million and $3.9 million for consecutive budget years, they said.

“Where is the money going to come from?” Peters asked Wednesday.

County Executive Nav Gill said there’s a $3.4 million placeholder in the budget that will come before the board next month and could be used to fund the parkway plan.

Serna launched the parkway debate in June when he requested between $3 million and $5 million to address the impacts of homeless campers.

Other supervisors countered that campers would simply move into the surrounding neighborhoods when rousted. As a compromise, the board asked staff to come up with options to also clean up unincorporated areas of the county adjacent to the parkway.

Karen Humphrey, former mayor of Fresno, told supervisors the plan will “just move the problem around and waste precious resources.” She said she helped create the San Joaquin River Parkway, modeled on Sacramento’s parkway, so she understands its importance. But there isn’t enough capacity to shelter all of the people living in the brush, she said.

Earlier this year, supervisors voted to dedicate $6.2 million to a slew of new homeless initiatives on top of the county’s roughly $40 million in annual spending for homeless services.

The county will build a 75-bed shelter aimed at moving chronically homeless people off the streets. It’s scheduled to open in early 2018, and the county estimates it could serve 300 people annually. The money will also pay for a rehousing program, transitional housing and case workers.

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Volunteers clear about 3,000 invasive plants from American River shores

Several volunteers from the American River Parkway Foundation helped clear an estimated 3,000 Red Sesbania plants from the river shores near Rio Americano High School.

The invasive plant came to the region as an ornamental plant, for its beautiful red and orange flower, but recently has become a growing issue in the Sacramento Region.

Recent El Camino High School grad and parkway foundation river steward Elle Harlow, 18, was one of three volunteers that met Saturday to pull the plants.

“The plant itself is tall and green and kind of looking like a fern,” Harlow said.

She and others from the organization often volunteer to remove trash and other invasive plants along the waterways.

“They absolutely take over wherever they are and keep any of the native plants from growing,” Harlow said.

The plant can form dense stands that cut off access to waterways that choke out native wildlife and plants, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plant grows in wet soil and can cause erosion along rivers and streams that can lead to flooding.

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Push for more patrols on American River Parkway

The American River Parkway is Sacramento County’s urban jewel, but in recent years, it’s become tarnished with litter, debris and close encounters with aggressive dogs protecting homeless campers.

“I’ve had pit bulls coming after me,” said Mike Golden, a bicyclist on the American River Parkway. “I’ve had two pitbulls coming out after me, one each side.”

Golden loves biking along the parkway, but told KCRA 3 he’s increasingly concerned about public safety.

“You’ve got a small minority of the population, the homeless — they are really destroying it for the vast majority of the users of the Parkway,” Golden said.

There are hundreds of people living illegally along the American River Parkway.

For Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, the issue is personal after he suffered a health scare during a cleanup of the American River Parkway.

“I was accidentally stuck by a hypodermic needle,” Serna said.

“We continue to see not just hypodermic needles but propane tanks and large trash piles and off-leash dogs that are aggressive,” he said.

The needle incident occurred several years ago, but Serna now wants to allocate $5 million to add up to 10 additional park rangers, increasing the number from roughly 25 to 35.

“There would be several more teams of park rangers working collaboratively with park maintenance staff, community prosecutors, social workers to make sure we’re keeping the parkway clean, safe and make sure the people that need help the most here are going to receive that help.”

The money would be used to help remove people who are camping illegally and causing environmental harm.

Jeremy Donnelson and Mary Weick live in a homeless encampment just 100 yards from the bike trail in Discovery Park. They said they’ve been living behind tarps for four months and have never seen a park ranger.

They’re not happy about the prospect of someone telling them to move.

“I would feel that would be taking away from the homeless, like the government’s been trying to do for a long time and trying to make being homeless illegal,” Weick said.

“Being homeless yeah it’s illegal whatever, but there’s more people becoming homeless because less jobs,” Donnelson added. “But they have to realize that we need a place to go too.”

While some in the homeless community might want permanent low-cost housing, it’s not for everyone.

“I can only handle indoors for so long,” Donnelson said. “I don’t know what it is about indoors. I’m indoors for a while and I start getting antsy. I can’t stand being indoors for too long.”

But for many people who enjoy activities on the parkway, it’s really a matter of safety.

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Body recovered from American River near Capital City Freeway

Sacramento Fire Department boat crews have recovered a body from the American River.

The body of a black male adult was located Monday afternoon under the Union Pacific Railroad bridge near the Capital City Freeway overcrossing, said Chris Harvey, Fire Department spokesman..

He said Union Pacific crews were working on top of the bridge about 3 p.m. when they spotted what appeared to be a body in the water below and contacted the fire department.

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Locals try to seek safe spots on the American River

As Fourth of July approaches, people are heading to the area’s waterways to stay cool, but some are avoiding the most dangerous spots on the American River.

On Sunday, many people were cooling off at Lake Natoma – a calmer portion of the river near Folsom.

“As you can see here, they have the swimming holes for the children and that’s where it’s all calm,” said Shane Nischke. “And you can see where everybody else is kayaking, it’s great out there — there’s nothing roaring through here.”

The Nischke family came all the way from Auburn to enjoy this spot, even though there are plenty of rivers where they’re from.

“It’s just dangerous,” he said, referring to those rivers. “For the last three years, this is the place I come with my children because it’s the safest.”

Nischke is familiar with the dangers of the American River because he lost a close friend in a drowning incident on the river.

“He was out on a trail and then he fell in right in the rapids and the undertow took him and wrapped him up around a log,” he said. “He couldn’t get out, and therefore, his life was ended that day.”

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Rafting scene mild, not wild, at annual American River event

Rafting Gone Wild wasn’t quite as wild as it was last year.

Last year, one of the organizers of Rafting Gone Wild jumped off a bridge to avoid law enforcers. Park rangers made six arrests at the 2016 event on suspicion of everything from public intoxication to battery on a police officer.

This year, that level of mayhem was not equaled as of late Saturday afternoon.

At the Clay Banks off El Manto Drive in Rancho Cordova, hundreds of kayaks, rafts and other floatation devices moved across the American River early Saturday.

Participants varied widely in age, from the very young to the elderly. They also varied widely in their levels of public intoxication. Although there were signs around the river indicating that alcohol was banned, some did not heed the warning. While many rafts featured large families out to have outdoor fun on a hot day, others had large coolers, flasks and drink cups.

As of 6 p.m., there was no official report of the number of arrests made and citations issued.

While the event’s Facebook page describes the area as “the biggest party on the shores,” there wasn’t much obvious public drinking, likely influenced by the park rangers who were stationed right off the river.

“People are trying (to party) but they’re just staking it out,” said one female rafter. When her group was asked if they had been drinking, all but one smiled and shook their heads no. One member, however, gave two thumbs up.

Bill Thomas, one of the rafters, led a group of family and friends that came from as far as Santa Rosa, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and even Florida.

For Thomas, Rafting Gone Wild is a yearly tradition. For past events, he has made a PVC pipe water-shooter and a cross-beam water balloon slingshot, the latter of which was later banned from the event. He said the number of revelers has decreased over the years.

“Each year there are fewer and fewer people here,” he said. “I think that has a lot to do with tablets and other forms of entertainment that we didn’t have back in the day.”

Still, Thomas and his group still enjoy the event. “We really love it,” he said.

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