Stories from the Parkway: “The deer was my most favorite part”

In previous editions of Stories from the Parkway, we’ve seen the Parkway from the perspective of an adult. Our next story is from the experiences of children.

The children explain why the Parkway is so important to our community and what everyone can experience on the Parkway.

Jasmine

“I like the Parkway because I like to ride my bike and see the river. I like the otters. I like everything.”
Lucy, Age 4

Mira, Age 8

Damion

Kalia, Age 6

Ibrahim

Elizabeth

KJ, Age 8

These children are some of the millions of visits that occur on the American River Parkway each year. Help us continue to conserve this Sacramento treasure so our community and future generations can have the opportunity to make their own memories here. Become a member or donate today.

Stories from the Parkway: “Isolation from Urban Complexity”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from David Dawson –

It was before sunrise on a cold, calm November morning here in Sacramento; but I wasn’t at home. Home, where I arose in the dark to come to the river wasn’t far away; just about two miles from where I stood in the first light of dawn. It was only a short drive through suburban streets to get there with my kayak and camera. But then, with the American River at my feet, I saw nothing of the two million human beings who surrounded me in the Sacramento metropolitan area. I saw no streets, no cars, no buildings, and no lights.

In his 1912 book “The Yosemite”, John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” And that’s what I sought, even so near to home: isolation from urban complexity, the peacefulness and serenity, the beauty and the magic of the river and the wild creatures who live within, beside and above it.

It was an auspicious arrival at riverside where I launched the kayak, because it was a “twelve rabbit morning”. No fewer than a dozen jackrabbits scampered away in the headlights as I approached the river. Then, through grey mist rising, there were dimly to be seen only the gravel bar on which I stood, the river, the trees and foliage, and the emerging dawn twilight rising in the east.

I launched the kayak in a quiet backwater and settled in with my camera, and even though I wasn’t going fishing, I felt the same kind of excitement, of hope, of opportunity that I felt long ago as a kid on the first day of trout season. I thought now in this 76th year of my existence, “What is it, what extraordinary thing, will I be amazed by on this day?” The kayak moved easily, gently into the current, and, as expected, I maneuvered to meet a friend, an exceptional wildlife photographer, who had launched from the other side of the river.

Together we drifted wordlessly, silently downstream near the riverbank, as golden sunlight broke above the horizon and swept through the mist, low across the water. Ahead of us, emerging from the fog, a great blue heron stood tall, patient, mystical, on a log near the bank, framed by the river and the autumn colors of a tree behind. Our minds, our hearts, and our cameras captured that moment; and, no matter how many great blue herons we’d seen before, we both felt awe at the beauty of this creature in this setting.

We drifted beyond the heron and went our separate ways. My friend headed downstream in search of river otters, and I moved quietly toward an inlet where two Canada geese, on the water and in the mist, were backlighted by the golden rays of the sunrise. Again, there was an intense feeling of “Wow” as my camera recorded the scene. On that same morning I photographed otters, both great and snowy egrets, a green heron, and double-crested cormorants before heading back to the launch point.

I had spent about 2 ½ hours on the river, and as I creakily extracted my elderly body from the boat, my mind stayed full of the wonders of this time on the river, and I was eager to see the photographs that came from such a memorable morning, so near to home.

Back at home, framed, on a wall near my desk, and written in calligraphy, there is a 4th century BCE quote from the Chinese philosopher Mencius. The quote says, “The way is near, yet we seek it far off.” Today, as on that November morning, the way to the wondrous beauty of this world where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul… that way is not far off. It’s very near…. Indeed, right here before us if we are open to see it.

[Originally written January, 2016; edited September, 2019]

David Dawson is a retired State of California executive, a wildlife photographer, and the 2019 American River Parkway Foundation Volunteer of the Year. He has enjoyed the Parkway with his family since settling in Sacramento in 1976.

Stories from the Parkway: “Woof, woof!”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our next story is from Sarah Madden – dog mom & founder of SacTownDogs

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What can I say about the American River Parkway? Well, I love it and so does my dog!

From exploring its land and riverscapes since I was a little girl to now bringing my fur kid almost daily for a swim or walk, it feels like my personal sanctuary away from the hubbub of the city. I relish the times that I’m able to sneak away and enjoy a few hours with my pup along the Parkway, meeting new fur-iends and humans too.

During the Dog Days of Summer, you’ll find me most evenings waterside at Sailor Bar with my Labrador, Lily. She loves having a cool place to play during the intense Sacramento heat and I’m always happy to dip my toes in too! The geese and ducks always join in on the fun, swimming alongside Lily, quacking happily.

As we transition into fall, Lily’s best fur-iend Dexter will tag along for a walk along the river trails while I admire the color changes and enjoy the brisk autumn air. We’ll stop for a quick swim and linger into the evening so we can catch the sunset. It’s my favorite time of the year. There’s nothing like seeing a fall sunset glistening on the water with your best fur-iends!

American River Parkway’s marked, well-maintained trails and roads ensure hours of exploring even during the cold months. The miles and miles of scenic beauty and abundant wildlife are a perfect way to stretch our human and puppy legs and get some of those winter crazies out! It’s our favorite way to spend a chilly morning or afternoon.

When spring is in full bloom Dexter & I love to stop and smell the wildflowers, while Lily keeps an eye out for puddles. She can’t help but splash in every one along the way…typical lab! I always have my camera ready to capture the new life and beauty of the Parkway. If we’re lucky we’ll catch a glimpse of a doe and her fawns grazing in the tall green grass.

With this year-round wonderland offering unlimited opportunities to stroll, explore and splash around with your pup, it’s no wonder Sacramento is listed as one of the top ten dog friendly cities in California.

A few years back I started SacTownDogs, a community website & social network for dog owners to exchange useful information, local events, and places to explore in and around Sacramento. One of the questions we receive on a regular basis from our followers is “Where’s a good place to take my dog out?” American River Parkway is always one of our go-to answers. In fact, a picture of Lily at Sailor Bar was my inspiration for the SacTownDogs logo.

The American River Parkway is an incredible asset to the community, and we are truly blessed to have this natural treasure in our little city. So, grab your pups (and those leashes) and get down to the Parkway! Woof Woof!!

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Sarah Madden is the founder of SacTownDogs – a community website & social network for dog owners in and around Sacramento.

Note from the editor: For the safety of you, your dogs, other Parkway users, and wildlife, dogs must be on a leash while on the American River Parkway. The maximum length of a leash (including retractable ones) is six feet.

Stories from the Parkway: “I have built my career on this trail.”

Thousands of people visit the Parkway each year to run, bike, paddle, and enjoy. We’d like to share a few of their stories with you.

Our first story is from Kim Conley – US Olympian and professional runner.

It’s a warm morning in early July as I set out from William Pond Park for an easy run on the American River Parkway. I am headed in my favorite direction, running downstream with the river. There is something about being out here that feels like an escape from the rest of the city of Sacramento, and the narrow ribbon of the Parkway setting makes one feel entirely surrounded by nature. Even in the depths of summer you can feel a coolness blowing off the water and the tall grasses and wooded oak area provide homes for a variety of animals that dart across the path from time to time.

From William Pond I climb up and over some rolling hills to a higher vantage point over the river. I soon come upon one of the many pink stone benches that dot the Parkway. This one stands in the shade of a tall oak tree that overlooks the river and on this morning Terry, one of my favorite parkway fixtures, is sitting for a break during his morning walk. I first met Terry three years ago, finally stopping to introduce myself after years of waving and saying “good morning” every time I ran by him. I learned that he has lived along the Parkway for over fifty years, before it was even the Parkway. Terry has seen the area transformed from a flood plain surrounded by orchards to the twenty-three mile network of connected regional parks that exists today. He started as a regular cyclist on the path, but more recently, since hip surgery, he walks once or twice daily from his house out to the river.

Today I stop for a brief chat, and like the last time I spoke to him, our interaction has me impressed by his long-standing connection to the area and prompts me to reflect upon my own developing history. I’ve lived in Sacramento ten years now, since graduating from UC Davis in 2009, and at every turn I am reminded of how I have built my career on this trail.

Not long after seeing Terry this morning, I pass by a fellow alum from the UC Davis Cross Country and Track and Field program. My history with the Parkway actually begins before I lived in Sacramento, when I first arrived at UC Davis and our team would travel for weekly long runs on the Parkway. It always felt exciting to me to leave the confines of Davis to explore new, beautiful sections of the Parkway. Eventually, as my years of crossing the Causeway added up, and the length of my long runs simultaneously increased, I began to connect different trail sections from various starting points. These trips developed my appreciation of the extent of the Sacramento area encompassed by the Parkway and always left me eager to keep exploring and pushing the boundaries of my experiences there.

This morning I continue my run along the granite shoulder, eager to move out of the sun and enter the shaded area up ahead. I briefly move right, onto the bike path and around two runners in front of me who say hello as I pass. One says my name, and I turn to realize that it’s a board member from the Sacramento Running Association, an organization that played a defining role in my career in 2012. The president at the time, John Mansoor, created an elite training grant to help support developing post-collegiate runners in the area. Later that year I made my first Olympic team and was off to London to represent the US, and in turn, the Sacramento area. I often see John and current SRA board members running out here, and each time it evokes a sense of gratitude for their willingness to help catapult me onto the 2012 Olympic team and launch my career as a professional runner.

From 2012 on, the American River Parkway became my regular “office,” and as I’ve amassed week upon week of training out here I have also developed a comfortable familiarity with each hill and bump of the path as well as its users and wildlife. There are many familiar faces along this path, from bird watchers, to dog walkers, to cyclists and fellow runners. On this summer morning the wildlife remains out of sight, but it’s not uncommon to see a coyote scampering amidst the golden grass along the levee or an egret silently grazing for a meal. And there is nothing that brings the diverse users of the Parkway together like a rattlesnake crossing the path, holding up traffic as we make sure it completes its journey without incident.

I’m nearing the turn around point of my run, grateful to be in the shaded tunnel of oak trees that line the path here. I check for oncoming cyclists, and then cross to resume running on the left-hand shoulder. I retrace my footsteps, heading out of this shaded haven and back in the direction from which I have come. To my left, roof tops poke up over the levee, a subtle reminder that rest of Sacramento still exists just a stone’s throw away.

I climb up and over the rolling hills to get back to William Pond. Terry has long since departed his bench for home, and I am nearing the end of my run. A cyclist whizzes past and calls out my name in encouragement. It’s Jim Wachter, a local runner and cyclist that logs many of his own Parkway miles and won’t hesitate to stop and chat if the opportunity presents itself.

Even in a profession where ritual and routine provide a good recipe for forward progress, sometimes my training and competition schedules take me on the road for weeks or months at a time. Seeing familiar faces on the Parkway reminds me of how grateful I am for every run along the American River. Today, as I slow to a walk at the parking lot at William Pond, I realize that everything about my run this morning captures what I love about being on the Parkway. It’s both a beautiful training environment and a community of people that I love being among, and from whom I derive the inspiration to continue pushing my boundaries both out here and beyond.

Kim Conley is a US Olympian and professional runner. She lives and trains in Sacramento, CA and Flagstaff, AZ. To learn more about Kim and her career, visit her website.