A few miles from the American River Parkway, another Sacramento park is being damaged by illegal camping, drug use and tons of trash.
The heavily wooded natural areas of Del Paso Regional Park have become a haven for homeless campers – and much more, according to the city.
The park is a 145-acre slice of land wedged between the Capital City Freeway, Interstate 80 and Auburn Boulevard in North Sacramento. The Haggin Oaks golf complex, the Powerhouse Science Center’s Discovery campus, the Sacramento Softball Complex and shuttered Harry Renfree Field are in the park.
There’s also a large wooded area cutting through the middle of the park. Arcade Creek runs through it, along with a network of nature trails. The trails were established for horseback riders decades ago, and are also used by walkers and school groups.
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Some of those park users have been scared off by the deteriorating condition of Del Paso Regional Park. Hidden from view by a thick tree canopy, homeless campers, drunks, drug users and people engaging in “lewd conduct” frequent the property, the city said.
The items that city crews and volunteers have taken out of the park range from the expected to the horrific. The Sacramento Horsemen’s Association, which has a clubhouse in the park and uses the trails, rescued 18 animals last year that had been dumped in the park. A bag of live kittens was once found out there. Mattresses, bicycle frames, soiled adult diapers and hypodermic needles are removed all the time.
Shannon Brown, a park operations manager with the city, told the parks commission in November that workers had removed 111 tons of garbage from the park over a six-month period.
“It’s beautiful out there. It’s still a very rural feeling, and we want to make it what it used to be,” said Horsemen’s Association board member Michele Cable. “There isn’t much open space left in Sacramento. It’s something we should preserve, and it’s getting ruined.”
In response to the horrid conditions, city officials are trying to update the regulations that govern Del Paso Regional Park.
The changes, which should go to the City Council next month for approval, would allow park rangers to issue citations to trespassers inside the natural areas. The city also intends to hang signs telling people to stick to trails and could install “post and cable” barriers to dissuade people from trampling into the woods.
Homeless campers are showing up more and more in city parks outside the American River Parkway – and city officials and homeless service workers aren’t quite sure why. Still, restricting access to a section of a public park is a rarity in the city. The wild habitat along Laguna Creek in Valley Hi is restricted, but there may not be another section of city parkland with this kind of control.
Blythe Blue, a member of the Sacramento Horsemen’s Association, has the task of hanging signs asking walkers, riders and campers not to litter. She has also handed out garbage bags to homeless people in the park, volunteering to take their refuse away.
“I tell them that if they keep the area clean, I won’t turn them in,” she said.
Blue is trying to be realistic about the impact an amended city code will have. She sounds like everyone else in the city who is trying to figure out how to alleviate an intractable homeless issue.
“You can’t just make people go away – the best thing would be to get those people homes,” she said. “Every little thing helps. But it’s kind of endless.”