Using vision, creativity and plenty of cooperation, the Bureau of Land Management has thought outside the box to develop free recreational opportunities for the public to enjoy.
When Francis Berg arrived in the North State to be the assistant field manager for the BLM’s Redding office, the agency’s mission was to manage federal lands that hadn’t been appropriated for other purposes. “In Redding, Siskiyou County, Trinity County, Tehama County and the bit we do in Butte County, these lands were colloquially known as ‘the leftovers,’” Berg said. “They were scattered like shotgun fire. There were more than 1,000 parcels that ranged in size from a fraction of an acre to thousands of acres.”
Many of these parcels had no public access, so “there was no way for people to enjoy them unless you were the neighbor,” Berg said. “They were not providing a lot of relevance to the general population.”
So in 1988, the BLM office began a resource management plan. Input from the public and various partners made it clear that people wanted to see public lands near rivers and other areas ripe for recreational opportunities. In turn, the BLM identified about 135,000 acres for disposal, and about an equal number to acquire to consolidate public lands in areas with rich potential.
“We were able to really focus into areas that had great recreation opportunities or imperiled ecosystems, and almost overnight, the BLM had relevance – and not just to a few people. All of a sudden we were your front-door recreation opportunities for Redding, for Weaverville, for Red Bluff, even Chico with Butte Creek,” said Berg, a 34-year federal employee. “That resource management plan is what set the stage, and really working with people to come up with that kind of a vision.”
An example of this work is the Sacramento River Bend Area, north and east of Red Bluff. “It grew from 4,000 acres to 18,000 acres of oak woodland along a beautiful river. It’s become a smash hit, particularly with horseback riders,” Berg said. “It’s got that western, country feeling to it.”
Another success story is the federal land between Lake Shasta, Whiskeytown Lake and Keswick Reservoir. “We’ve really tied those lands with trails to the city of Redding, with wonderful cooperation,” Berg said. “Redding had the Sacramento River Trail, and visionaries in this community going back 30 years ago asked, ‘Can’t this be linked all the way to Shasta Dam?’ Well, we did it. You can take any means of human-powered transportation all the way to Shasta Dam from the Sundial Bridge and Caldwell Park.”
On the west side, trails tie Old Shasta, the city of Shasta Lake and the city of Redding to the Sacramento River corridor (in fact, the FB Trail, which completed the 38-mile loop around Keswick Reservoir in 2010, is named for Berg). On the east side, a four-foot-wide trail system ideal for horseback riding and mountain biking has been constructed entirely with voluntary contributions, primarily from the Redding and McConnell foundations.
People who enjoy motorized recreation can ride from the Keswick Reservoir up to French Gulch.
Another feather in the BLM’s cap is the Clear Creek/Swasey greenway that goes from Redding to Whiskeytown. The BLM owned one small parcel on the creek when the state of California and other agencies suggested that if the creek were restored, it could double or triple the number of fall-run Chinook salmon that used it. “We did it, and we got a fivefold increase – sometimes as much as tenfold,” Berg said. “To this date, it’s the most successful salmonid project in the state and probably in the country.”
Thanks to the cooperation of a multitude of people and agencies, there’s also a fish viewing plaza and 11 miles of trail below the greenway. “It was very much a community effort – we worked in the spirit of cooperation from the beginning to where we are today,” Berg said. “My role is to foster that spirit of cooperation and collaboration. There’s a depth and breadth of cooperators that people would die for in other field areas. There’s just this culture of cooperation that I have not seen anywhere else.”
And the work that’s been done by the BLM and its partners in recent years hasn’t diluted the number of people at the old hangouts, he said. “Every time we put in a little parking lot, we think we’re going to be splitting the user group. We just get a bigger user group,” he said. “There are more people buying bicycles, and they go right from town into the wildlands. The quality of life has really improved for people who like the outdoors. It just doesn’t get any better.”