Opening up the south bank of the American River
By Walt Seifert
Sacramento has two magnificent, magical rivers that are some of Northern California’s natural treasures. But the riverfronts’ potential for enjoyment has never been fully realized, at least in part because riverbanks can be hard to reach. River corridors are obvious places for trails, and the American River Parkway and its trail are sublime, but for the most part the parkway provides access to only one side of the river. On the Sacramento River, there are barriers to public access.
In November, the city council approved planning and building a multiuse trail along the Sacramento River. The vote took place in a chamber packed with vocal and emotional trail supporters and opponents, with opponents being mostly Pocket and Little Pocket residents. Virtually lost in the shuffle and scuffle was the fact that the council also okayed a plan to complete a nine-mile-long trail along the south bank of the American River.
It’s heartening that no one showed up to oppose the American River plan. Completion of this trail would fulfill a long-held vision to have trails on both sides of the American River. The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (which is on the north bank of the river within city limit) is the culmination of a similar vision. The Jed Smith trail, and the parkway it’s in, are regional gems, widely appreciated as some of the best things about Sacramento. Yet the Jed Smith trail can be difficult to get to for many Midtown and East Sacramento residents. It’s on the far side of the river, and crossings are few and far between.
Completing a south-bank trail would capitalize on a mostly unknown and unvisited scenic riverfront. It would create an outstanding new recreational amenity for neighborhood walkers, joggers, bicyclists and nature lovers. It would add a healthy, traffic-free, clean-air bike commuting opportunity for many more residents. Trail construction and trail visitors would provide an economic boost for the surrounding community.
Two trail segments already exist along the south bank, but they don’t connect—and they don’t reach Midtown, East Sacramento or most of River Park. One segment is the Two Rivers Trail north of the downtown railyards in the Richards Boulevard area. It’s a rarely used two-mile-long path atop the levee with beautiful views of the river, running from near Discovery Park to Highway 160. Much farther upstream, a better-used two-mile-long trail segment dips under the H Street Bridge and extends from the CSUS campus to Watt Avenue.
Based on the council’s action, the city manager now is authorized to fill the gap between these two segments. The new link would be in a partially industrialized area that most residents have never seen: north of C Street and from behind the Blue Diamond Almond plant near Highway 160, along Sutter’s Landing Regional Park and River Park to H Street. (Sutter’s Landing is the site of the city’s former landfill at the north end of 28th Street.) The result would be a continuous nine-mile-long route from the confluence to Watt Avenue. Sacramento County has plans to extend the trail even farther, another three miles, to the riverfront near Bradshaw Road. With existing and proposed bridges, and in combination with the popular Jed Smith trail on the other side of the river, that would create a wonderful network of loop rides and bike commute options.
Unfortunately, any new bridges, even relatively simple (and vitally needed) bicycle/pedestrian bridges, appear to be far in the future.
The city has already received a $1.5 million grant for park upgrades that includes building three-quarters of a mile of trail in Sutter’s Landing Regional Park. Construction will probably occur in the next couple of years. While that will enhance the park, the short trail will not connect on either end to the existing segments. However, the city also secured $500,000 in regional funding to plan and do environmental work on the entire missing trail link from Highway 160 to H Street.
There are a number of challenges to building this critical link. Crossing Highway 160 will be difficult. The trail would have to pass under two rail bridges owned by Union Pacific. UP has not always been accommodating in granting public access to land it mostly received from the public. There is also privately owned property west of Sutter’s Landing Regional Park that might force the trail to detour away from the riverbank. Once a trail is built, there are potential problems with the homeless. The trail will go past the spot where Sacramento’s former homeless tent city gained national attention. The city will need to address and resolve security issues. Residents in a couple of dozen of River Park homes may be concerned about loss of privacy, especially if a trail needs to be on the levee top instead of hidden from view at the bottom of the river side of the levee.
But for thousands of Sacramento residents, a continuous south-bank American River trail will tap into the beauty, serenity and enchantment of the river. The trail will offer a remarkable amenity that improves quality of life by helping keep people physically fit and lifting spirits with its connection to our piece of paradise.