Celebrating an early Parkway visionary whose work followed that, as so many visionary ideas do, of many others in the forgotten past, is always worthwhile to remind us of the work laying the foundation for those treasures we now have and enjoy.
The first map of the area that contained an outline of the Parkway, that I am aware of and have been fortunate to have actually seen, was done by John Nolen in 1915 under a contract he entered into with the Sacramento Board of Park Directors in 1913.
We noted this in our 2005 research report on our website:
“1915 Parkway planning efforts begin, as noted by the Dangermond Group. (August 10, 2000). American River Parkway: Financial Needs Study. Sacramento, California: American River Parkway Funding Group (p. 1).
“The American River Parkway was first envisioned by [Sacramento] city planners in 1915 who proposed an extensive parkway along the river. Later, in 1929 after the passage of the first state park bond act, Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr. visited Sacramento and urged cooperative efforts towards this end among the many agencies with jurisdiction over the river area. In 1947 he updated his concept for the parkway by emphasizing the development of recreational facilities including picnic sites, and docks for pleasure craft along the river course.” (p. 17)
“John Nolen (1869-1937) was the first American to identify himself exclusively as a town and city planner.” (Endpiece, New Towns For Old, John Nolen, 2005, Reprint of 1927 book)
A vibrant visionary
In 1952, naturalist Elmer Aldrich saw an unprotected recreation area and pioneered the American River Parkway
By Blair Anthony Robertson - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, August 5, 2007
Before he moved to Sacramento's River Park neighborhood in 1949, before he began advocating for the creation of the American River Parkway and cementing his reputation as one of the most respected naturalists around, Elmer Aldrich was something of a hired killer.
Aldrich, 93, who as a child collected bird cards from the boxes of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, landed a job as a junior biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game in the back country outside Santa Barbara. It was 1940 and he had just earned his master's degree at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied zoology, biology and botany. He needed the money -- $165 a month -- and had already decided he was too broke to pursue a Ph.D.
Leading a staff of five, including a lion hunter, Aldrich studied the relationship of predators and the deer population. His forays into the wilderness included camping, rigorous hiking and mountain climbing. Along the way, he developed into a photographer and became friends with Ansel Adams, the biggest name in American nature photography.
In this particular job, he spent much of his time trapping mountain lions and coyotes.
Those were different times, but Aldrich says he never completely got over it. "I didn't like it very much," he said. "You can justify a certain amount of what you are doing on a scientific basis, but it was not pleasant."
Aldrich left that job -- gladly -- for one studying malaria in quail. He married his college sweetheart, served in the Navy during World War II and landed in Sacramento in 1949.
In River Park, where homes now sell for $400,000 to $600,000, he spent $1,000 on a lot and a half and another $4,000 to build a 3-bedroom, 1-bath house, which he later expanded. His career with the state spanned from analyst with the Personnel Board to manager with the State Division of Beaches and Parks. After he retired in 1972, he did consulting work for a decade.
Not far beyond his new backyard was the American River, then a disorganized recreation area in danger of disappearing as development crept closer and closer to the river. Trees and wildlife were abundant, but there was no bike trail and, more importantly, no vision. Activities ranged from motorcycle riding to fishing.
But Aldrich could see into the future. In a 1952 article in the Sacramento Audubon Society's newsletter, he called for the creation of the American River Parkway. He called for the public purchase of private land to form "an integrated park system for public enjoyment."