Wednesday, August 31, 2011


After of mid-day visit to the Bidwell Mansion in Chico, Patty, Roxy and I headed thirty miles west for a short hike and possible swim at Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area, located halfway between Chico and Red Bluff. For anyone with a burning desire to see this park, you need to go this weekend (Labor Day) as it closes September 6!!!

On this day there was no ranger at the entrance, no brochures to be had. We left our day use fee in an envelope and drove into the park, looking for the nature trail and river access. It was hot. A swim wood be nice! Woodson Bridge SRA's 428 acres lie on both sides of the Sacramento River. The east bank is primarily a campground, offering an environment "close to nature." Oddly, there were manicured lawns being watered. A camp host was situated next to the public restrooms. On the day we visited, only two of the forty-six campsites were occupied.

The west bank is undeveloped and is on the main flyway between Mexico and Canada, so it is an excellent place for bird-watchers. Quail, owls, hawks, falcon, pheasant and songbirds reside in this riparian habitat. In winter it is a nesting site for Bald Eagles, in summer for the elusive Yellow Billed Cuckoo.

I parked the car near the river, looking for a trail down to the water. None was apparent. A path that paralleled the river was private property.
We found a portion of the Nature Trail. Blackberry vines were beginning to creep across the pathway. A dozen or so small numbered, wooden signs were apparently once markers for specific plant or animal life, but have now faded away.
Over one hundred plant species have been identified throughout the park; the most prominent is the large valley oak. The California black walnut, Oregon ash, black cottonwood, sycamore, and willow are also plentiful. There are seasonal wildflowers. Our mid-August visit found smatterings of pink Belladonnas (sometimes called Naked Ladies.) We munched on not quite ripe, mouth puckering blackberries, whose vines are either encroaching on or have already taken over pathways.

But the most striking plant of all was the California Wild Grapevine! It took me by surprise I must say. It was everywhere, appearing to be choking out the rest of the plantlife. But in fact, it provides an important food source for a variety of wild animals, especially birds, and the foliage provides thick cover. It is native to most of California. It is a deciduous vine which can grow to over 30 feet in length and is common along the banks of the Sacramento River. I've had personal experience with blackberries taking over my yard, and wisteria creeping into my house, and was initially concerned that this wild grapevine was destroying this lush habitat. But supposedly it's not. Nonetheless, where the plant is not native, or if it is planted
and allowed to thrive in small domestic gardens, it can take down large trees and has the capacity to become a noxious weed. Ooh Ooh I heard it through the grapevine...

Still hoping to find a way to the river for a swim, we were pleased to see a sign that said "beach access." We followed the narrow trail for a few hundred feet to find it not only closed, but hugely overgrown. Prickly, stinging plants covered the path knee-deep. In my lifetime I have been known to occasionally ignore warnings, but the additional signpost about rattlesnakes on the beach trail quickly halted any thoughts I may have had about marching through the stickers. Patty, Roxy and I made our way back to the car, hoping the rattlers would honor the sign and stay where it says there are.

We drove across the street and entered the 14 acre Tehama County River Park. Here we were finally able to dip our feet into the Sacramento River. The county park offers swimming, boat ramps, inner-tubing, hiking and picnic areas, but is strictly a day use facility. No camping.

Tehama County Park is where we found the "new" Woodson Bridge (which replaced the historic bridge that was there from 1920 - 1974), as well as historic markers and plaques commemorating the old bridge. We toyed with crossing the new bridge on foot, but traffic was heavy, there were no sidewalks, and we were hot and tired.

As we left the area, I found myself making peace with the closure of this particular park. True, when the gate goes up next week, the campsite will be closed. But attendance was low. The recreations once provided by this state recreation area are now primarily offered at the Tehama County Park, across the highway.

Yet, with the State of California still maintaining ownership of this luscious riparian habitat, the animal and plant life will continue to survive and thrive. So until such time (soon I hope) that California can keep all of it's parks open, my soul is happy that the land will still remain wild, free of fancy tourist resorts, and that the eagles, cuckoos and all of the other birds on the flyway can stop, rest, and ... munch on a few wild grapes. Take care, Woodson Bridge... until we meet again.

In the meantime, I hope to see you at the parks.


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