Bidwell Park History

Hooker Oak, April 5, 1941 Photo by Vesta Holt


A Brief History Of Bidwell Park, by Philip A. Lydon

Plants in the Lives of Northern California Native Americans, by Wes Dempsey

Chico's Lost Arboretum An article describing a part of the park that was once a State Board of Forestry demonstration plantation, by Wes Dempsey

Historical documents

Annie Bidwell's Deed giving the park to Chico

Articles from the Chico Record, July 1905, describe Annie Bidwell's gift:
Photo of bridge and creek on foggy winter day Bridge at Five Mile, 1960 Photo by Robbins King

A letter (date uncertain, ca. 1960s) from Grayson Price, Chico City Attorney, answers legal questions regarding Annie Bidwell's will.

A 1983 affidavit from Bidwell heir Anne Ellicot Kennedy Anderson protesting the inclusion of the park when the reversionary clause was removed from deeds to lands owned by Annie Bidwell.

Yahi Trail

An article describing the construction of the Yahi Trail in 1967. The article, by Wes Dempsey, was written in 1997 for publication in a Sierra Club newsletter.

The Yahi Trail Map and Guide, a PDF file. This guide was written in 1997. Note that the upper part of the trail has been rerouted since this guide was produced. The file is fairly large, about 7 MBytes.


Undated poster protesting herbicide use in Bidwell Park.
Go here for a table of pesticide usage over the years.

photo of 'NO TRESSPASSING' sign Spelling test — In summer 2010, more than a dozen of these signs were removed from the fence line along Upper Park Road.
photo of barn formerly near Chico Creek Nature Center In June 2006 this barn near the Chico Creek Nature Center, said to have been used for storage by John Bidwell, was destroyed by fire.
1940 photo of wildflowers at Hooker Oak Wildflowers near Hooker Oak, ca. 1940 Photo by Vesta Holt.
photo of dirt banks from old midget car racetrack The faint outline of the banked turns of an old motorcycle and midget-car race track, used from 1955-64 [Lydon], can be seen in an open area south of Parking Lot A in Middle Park. The area was tilled as part of a weed control project shortly before this photo, a composite of several images, was taken.

Timeline: A partial list of proposed and actual developments in Bidwell Park

1918 20 acre fish hatchery proposed
1920 (approx.)Golf course put in - 9 holes
1921Forestry Station land added to Lower Park. Now the site of Cedar Grove, the Nature Center, and World of Trees
1921,1926Airplane field near golf course proposed
1925First clubhouse built at golf course
1926Company G, 184th Infantry gets permission to construct rifle range
1932Polo field proposed
1933CCC winter camp building east of the golf course proposed
1934Kennedy tract (walnut orchard) added to north side of Lower Park
1937 The Adventures Of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, was filmed in Lower Park
1937 (and prior to)Horseshoe Lake reservoir in existence
1939 Petersen Memorial Drive built by CCC
1940Overnight campground proposed in northeastern end of park
1941Military camping okayed
1942-45Diversion Dam built (year uncertain)
1946Archery area established by Glenn Archery Club
194725-year lease and improvements on Radar bombing site proposed
1949Recreation District formed (CARD)
1950Softball field moved to Hooker Oak area
1950Water control dams on Chico Creek proposed
1951Day Camp established by CARD and Chico Teachers College
1951First mention of Easter Cross in BPPC minutes
1953CDF Fire Station (1.6 acres) proposed NW of Live Oak Grove (30 yrs)
1953Horseback riding groups ask BPPC for arena site. Okayed, but no funds.
1953Golf course expansion to 18 holes begins.
1953Area near One Mile leased to CARD for Sycamore baseball field.
1953Chief Evans asks for site for Police pistol range
1953-54Pistol range under construction
1954Campfire Girls dedicate Campfire Counciil Ring in Lower Park
1954Chico Rod and Gun Club construction begins.
1955Local midget race car group builds 250' long track in Live Oak Grove
1955Proposal to expand Horseshoe Lake to 20 acres for "pleasure boating, water skiing, boat races, fishing for youngsters..."
1955Park land from Arcadian Ave. west to Warner St. is given to Chico State College
1955 & 56Bridge requested for private property access above Day Camp
1956New rifle range requested for sole use of the National Guard, lease for 10 yrs
1957Rod and Gun Club construction completed.
1957-58CARD develops Hooker Oak area
1958$25,000 fish ladder built. 10 dams in 300' barrier
1958Motorcycle club asks to further develop Live Oak Grove area
1959Dam on Chico Creek (upper park) proposed
1960Construction of Highway 99 freeway across Bidwell Park begins.
1963PG&E claims it will cost $147,000 extra to bypass Bidwell Park with major power lines, plus $I6,000/ year. BPPC votes 3-1 to put lines elsewhere
1964PG&E power lines through upper park under construction
1965Sycamore Bypass diversion channel built
1968Chico Riding Club puts up arena
1970Five Mile Dam Recreation Area dedication
1970Caper Acres playground built
1971Footbridge at golf course replaced after old one washed out by high waters in 1970
1972Rod & Gun Club reports 77,300 targets used in 1971--possible cleanup of used skeet clay birds discussed
1972Extensive discussion and study of closing South Park Dr. to cars
1972Rifle range shade structures built
1973Upper Park to be closed from 11:30 pm to 30 minutes before sunrise to reduce vandalism
1973Trial period for dogs off leash in Lower and Upper Park starts
1974CARD proposes tennis court construction at Hooker Oak as part of renovation and improvement plan. BPPC opposed. City Council tentatively approves.
1974Park Commission votes to stop issuing wood-cutting permits for Bidwell Park
1974Park Commission discusses instituting a city tree ordinance
1974 Park Commission meeting minutes mention using sheep for weed control in park
1974Upper Park Road to be closed during wet weather at discretion of Park Superintendent
1975Park Commission discusses fire hazard in Park due to undergrowth
1975Banning of off-road vehicles on North Rim Trail discussed but no action taken
1976Bird sanctuary proposed for Lower Park by deer pen
1976Park Commission votes to close pistol range within 6 months
1977Bidwell Park site (by Mangrove Ave) proposed for new city/county library
1979Roller skating to be allowed in Lower Park
1979Request to fly remote control planes in Horseshoe Lake area including creation of a takeoff/landing area
1979North Rim road to be closed to vehicles in the winter months
19791300-acre arson fire in Upper Park
198020-station Par Course approved for Lower Park
1981Upper Park controlled burns start, with 1/5 of area to be burned each year
1981Commission Minutes note that there is only one trash can in Upper Park, users are supposed to "Pack it out"
1982Horse-drawn carriage tours proposed for Lower Park
1983Golf Course leased to private concessionaire with Park Commission relinquishing control over golf course management
1983Bocci ball courts proposed for Hooker Oak area
19831300 acorns planted along Upper Park Road on north side
1983Hwy 99 mural approved
1983Job title for Bidwell Park's two Community Service Officers is changed to Park Ranger
1984Park Department hires their first Urban Forester
1984Upper Park annual controlled burns stopped
1985Lost Park area surveyed and encroachments noted on maps
1985Tree nursery started in 1.2 acre Lower Park walnut orchard area
1986North Park Dr. to become one-way westbound, open 11 am-11 pm
1987Extensive discussion regarding use of park for military training
1987Discussion begins regarding feral cats in park
1989Rod and Gun Club's rifle and trap shooting ranges close
1989Golf course expanded and Upper Park Road realigned
1990Shakespeare in the Park begins
1990Bidwell Park Master Management Plan (MMP) approved by City Council.
1991Bidwell Park Wildfire Management Plan.
19921.5 mile "B" Trail built by volunteers from east end of Rim Trail to Middle Trail
19920.4 mile Canyon Oak Trail (later renamed Maidu) built by volunteers from Middle Trail near Parking Area E to Rim Trail.
1992Realignment of Upper Park Road and Golf Course using Mitigated Negative Declaration.
1993Purchase of 40 acre BLM site on Hwy 32 (site of present disc golf courses).
1994Chico General Plan approved. Bidwell Park, especially Upper Park, designated as a Resource Conservation Area (pg. 7-11).
1995Acquisition of 1417 acres on south side of Big Chico Creek.
1997Unofficial disc golf courses begin to develop on 40 acre Hwy 32 site.
1998Annie Bidwell Trail proposed, to extend from Bidwell Mansion to end of Upper Park "within sight and sound of the creek".
1998-1999Bloody Pin Trail rerouted and Guardians & Pine Trails built.
19991500 acre backfire covers north side of Upper Park between road and park boundary..
1999Bidwell Park Trails Manual approved, described as a "work in progress".
1999Existing disc golf course location approved by Park Commission and City Council, negotiations begin with Cal Trans regarding Hwy 32 access.
2000-20011.25 miles of Yahi Trail relocated and/or rebuilt.
2000-2002Trail plan developed with 23 "Focus Areas", includes new creekside ABT pedestrian trail segments on the south side (1-1.5 miles?), new 1 mile segment of S. Rim trail, new trail from the N. Rim Trail starting at the power lines to Bear Hole, a new trail from the eastern end of Lower Trail to Bear Hole, a new trail from the Middle Trail to the potential Day Camp area bridge site, a new trail from the junction of the B Trail and Middle Trail to Parking Area U at the end of the road, reroute of east end of Upper Trail and several reroutes of Yahi Trail between Bear Hole and Parking Area P..
2001Observatory built.
2002Horseshoe Lake Fishing Pier built.
2002GPS mapping of existing park trails and roads shows 40+ miles of official and frequently used unofficial trails and road on the north side and 28 miles on the south side.
2002 Bridges proposed above Day Camp and at the end of Upper Park Road.
2002Boundary survey on south side shows that some park trails from disc golf area cross private property and may need to be rerouted.
200319 acre antimony, lead, copper and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons removal project planned for Horseshoe Lake and lead removal at former pistol range.
2003Conceptual approval of observatory outdoor seating area & spotting pads, including realignment of the road to Parking Area C..
2003Funding for update of Bidwell Park Master Management Plan and associated EIR approved by City Council.
2003Conceptual approval of horse workout pen by Horse Arena.
Sandy Gulch News
January 26, 1939
Bidwell Park as Told by George M. Gray

The Big Chico Creek is a mountain stream coming down from 40-50 miles up in the snow capped peaks of the Sierras.

Hooker Oak measurements taken over 30 years ago (1900)

Number of people that could stand under the tree (allowing 2 square feet per person) - 7885

On the top of a hill In upper portion of the park is a large white cross where we used to have Sunrise Easter Services every year when thousands of people used to gather at sunrise. A new ground and cross has been made so as to accommodate 4 other towns, a little south and east of the city now.

Other information on the pools, etc. included in this article.

From Old Timer Series 271-325 #309 City of Chico Library
July 7, 1940

Bidwell Park was a pasture In 1887 and cows, horses and sheep browsed around eating the grass and chewing the low growing shrubs and vines. The first swimming party attended by both ladles and gentlemen Is recorded as having taken place June 2, 1887, Previous to that date only the younger boys en- joyed this sport in the park and invariably went in the water without swim suits.

Chico Enterprise Record
September 3, 1947
City Now Free From Park Restrictions Set Forth in General Bidwell's Will

The commission is free to permit Sunday picnics, allow liquor to be carried on the property, sanction organized games for profit and any other things forbidden in J. Bidwell's will.

Council approved a resolution accepting a "reversion deed" from the Title, Insurance and Guarantee Company of San Francisco. By this move liability for any action by Bidwell heirs or assigns to get the property back because of violations of the provisions of the will now must be directed against the San Fransisco Company.

Chico Enterprise Record
March 29, 1949

On July 10, 1905 Annie Bidwell sold 1902.88 acres of land along Big Chico Creek for the sum of $1.00. In May, 1911, an additional 301.76 acres in the same general area were deeded to the city.

In April, 1911 Mrs, Bidwell granted the land now known as Children's Playground to the city, with the notation that it was "intended for and to be used pri- marily as a children's park and playground, although it was not intended that any person be excluded on account of age or sex." The land was described as lying alongside "Sa-We-Ko Avenue" a roadway which is said to be called Sowilleno Avenue now.

The city plaza was deeded to the city on April 23, 1872 for use as a promenade through town. However the deed stated that the land might be used to build a city courthouse if the need ever arose.

Chico Enterprise Record
April 22, 1950
Bidwell Park, Third Largest In Country

Nearly 1 million people last year took advantage of the park's facilities. The land Is mostly covered with groves of valley and live oaks. Including the huge Hooker Oak, the largest of the valley oaks In the world. The park follows the course of Chico Creek from the city 9 miles Into the foot hills. At the eastern end, the creek flows through rugged gorges, with precipitous walls rising 100 feet from the stream in places. In the lower half, Chico Creek Is a graceful and cool stream, bordered by stately California Sycamores and oaks whose over hanging limbs are festooned with wild grape vines. At the present site of the children's baseball diamond near Sycamore Pool was where Bidwell laid out his drill grounds for the army divisions he commanded during the Civil War.

Chico Enterprise Record
May 2, 1959

A 7 mile equestrian trail opened in Bidwell Park. 175 riders participated on April 27, 1959. The trail ran from Sycamore Pool east to the Devil's Kitchen area,

Chico Enterprise Record

December 9 1954: City Council approved the expenditure of $2,500 to provide zoo fa- cilities in Bidwell Park.

April 26, 1956 Complaints about zoo odor. Animal facilities inadequate for winter. Cages too small. Lack of money and knowledge.

May 16, 1956 Zoo started within the past 2 years had proven to be a popular attraction.

Stripping experiments are underway in Bidwell Park's Spanish Cork Grove;
1940 1st stripping 15 trees
1946 2nd stripping ?

1950 -- Bidwell Park Commission granted permission to Omicron Theta Epsllon, organization for biology students at Chico State, to fence in 2 acres of the park for a five year experiment: grazing sheep versus wildflowers.

June 10, 1958: Freeway okayed by City Council .

Chico Enterprise Record
April 16, 1968
How Bidwell Park Became a Reality

...we believe that this historical data will be of benefit to both new and old residents of this area -- also a source of information to all -- all will encourage an appreciation for one of the largest natural city parks In the nation, which has come to us as a part of our heritage, by the grace of God and the understanding kindness of Mrs. Annie Bidwell.

Bidwell Park was originally called Vallombrosa because of Its likeness to a famous Italian wooded resort by that name.

The land embodied in this proposed property has been a part of the Bidwell estate since the early days, is a part of the original grant, and some of it is as fertile as the valleys of the Nile. The sentiment that prompted General and Mrs. Bidwell to preserve the natural beauty of this immense tract along Chico Creek; to spend thousands of dollars in the protection of the young oaks and vines and the building of roadways and pathways over the hundreds of acres, which others would have cleared and farmed for profit, is the same sentiment that prompter Mrs. Bidwell to welcome the time she can execute a deed to this property to the City of Chico and feel assured that this beautiful hand work of nature will be preserved for the enjoyment and betterment of humanity.

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by: Friends of Bidwell Park