The Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail through the American River Parkway is a major commuting route for bicyclists from the suburbs to downtown, with some reverse commuting as well. It is also a recreational trail, getting a lot of use from recreational bicyclists, walkers, and families on weekends. It is great that one trail can serve so many purposes. However, the trail is being managed by Sacramento Regional Parks as though it were just a recreational trail. The trail is part of the transportation network in the county, and it should be managed as such, of course in a way that is compatible with its purposes of recreation and natural area conservation.
To be specific:
- Directional signage to indicate entry and exit points and junctions with connecting trails is almost nonexistent. Mileage/time to destinations signage is non-existent.
- Park ranger and maintenance vehicles regularly drive on the trail, compressing the decomposed granite walking/running shoulders that have been constructed. These then erode and become muddy, and the vehicles track mud out onto the paved trail. Much of the maintenance work could be done by cargo bike, and much of the ranger patrol could be done by bicycle, which after all works just fine for the Sacramento PD and CHP bike officers. I have never seen a regional parks employee on a bike.
- When the trail is closed by flooding or fire, no information is provided about alternate routes. (see Parkway trail flood signing)
- Low spots on the trail are regularly flooded under moderate rain and flooding events, resulting a broken network. (see Parkway trail low points)
- The entire parkway has remained closed after the recent severe flooding episode, but regional parks has made no effort to inform the public about the sections where easy bypasses are available, such as levee top paths (which are sometimes paved and sometimes gravel, but usually passable). For example, it has been easy to ride from Guy West bridge along the levee, duck under the overpass at Howe Avenue by using paths down to and up from University Ave, and continue on to Watt Avenue, and beyond, but instead regional parks has said the parkway is closed and has not informed anyone of these alternate route. Parts of the trail were never flooded at all, yet remain closed.
- Sacramento Regional Parks receives $1 million annually from the Measure A transportation sales tax in order to maintain the trail. The Sacramento Bicycle Advisory Committee (SacBAC) has questioned how the money is being spent over the years, but has never received a satisfactory answer. It is possible the money is being well spent, and I’m sure the trail is expensive to maintain, but regional parks is not being transparent.
- There are almost no user facilities on the western end of the trail between Watt Avenue and Discovery Park. A drinking fountain at Howe Avenue was removed three years ago and never replaced. There are no bathrooms in this section, other than the smelly pit toilet at Watt Avenue and the almost unusable pit toilet near the Expo Parkway access point (which leaks waste into the waterway, no less). There are some benches or tables, but few and far between.
- Root humps regularly develop in the trail, which is natural given the riparian zone and large trees. So far as I can tell, the paint markings to flag these hazards are all made by trail users, not by regional parks. When things get really bad, they are repaired, but long after the point at which they become dangerous. The same issue exists with beaver burrow slumps, common in the section between Expo Parkway access and Sac Northern trail.
If Sacramento Regional Parks cannot manage the trail as part of the transportation network in the county, then perhaps it is time to pass along management of the trail (not the parkway) to another agency.
Please check the “Storm-Related Parks Update” on the Sacramento Regional Parks homepage.