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Bidwell park highlighted at museum book reading

Paul Belz laughs with audience member Joan Goodreau. Taken by Callum Standish on Feb. 22.

A small audience gathered quietly around author Paul Belz at the Museum of Northern California Art, Thursday night to hear “An overview of an overview” of his book about Bidwell Park.

Belz, a local author and poet, recently published his book “Bidwell Park: Personal Reflections and Casual Conversations About Chico’s Crown Jewel” which dives deep into the cool waters of Big Chico Creek and the tight relationship between Chico, Bidwell Park and the people who love it. 

The relaxed evening at MONCA served as a book reading, signing and a summary of his work. 

The Bidwell Park reflections started as an article for a travel site and evolved into a years-long mission, including extensive research, conversations with beloved Chico biologist Wes Dempsey and a dissection of government documents.

The group listens to Belz intently in the airy gallery. Taken by Callum Standish on Feb. 22.

The gallery was brightly lit with walls adorned in bird-themed mixed media artwork on display for the avian art exhibit. Chairs made of light wood and blue fabric were arranged to face the corner with a TV showing a slideshow of Upper and Lower Bidwell Park. The photos were of landscapes and wildlife taken by Belz and his partner Kate Roark. 

Nurse and poet Jean Varda started the calm evening by reading a few poems from her collection “Oracle.” The delicate prose made reference to Chico’s landscape and set the stage for the rest of the night. 

Belz stood casually before the group and began his overview. Through photographs, storytelling and his vast knowledge of the area, Belz explained the lengthy history of the park. 

He covered the volcanic Tuscan formation of the rocks and the Maidu Indigenous people who inhabited the area long before European settlement. Belz explained the role Annie Bidwell played in the park’s preservation and the ongoing debate on how it should be managed. 

Annie Bidwell had two main wishes when she donated the park to the city in 1905. The park would belong to all of Chico’s people and that the creek, the plants, the land and the animals would be preserved.

These two missions, to expand and develop for humans and to preserve the natural landscape, seem to cause some division among park enthusiasts. What is best for humans is often not best for the ecology of Bidwell Park. 

The crowd enjoyed a casual and intimate gathering Thursday night. Taken by Callum Standish on Feb. 22.

The park holds a special place in the hearts of many Chico residents. 

“Every time I go there I see a Canadian Goose who refuses to leave. Just like me,” Joan Goodreau, an audience member, writer and friend of Belz, said. 

Belz continued his presentation, highlighting the birds of the park to stick with the theme of the exhibit while also showing off the park’s environmental features. 

He imitated the familiar “whacka-whacka” of the woodpecker and described the smooth basalt of Iron Canyon which radiates warmth from the hot sun. 

Belz’s book “Bidwell Park, Personal Reflections and Casual Conversations About Chico’s Crown Jewel.” Taken by Callum Standish on Feb. 22.

In his book he conjures up an image of a summer evening at One Mile with the refreshingly brisk Sycamore Pool, families playing together and blue dragonflies buzzing low.

Goodreau appreciated what an asset the park is and said parks of this size are usually in places with bigger tax bases. She described the park as a breathing space for everyone.

Bidwell Park is not only unique because of its diverse ecology and sheer size at 3600+ acres, but because it has both developed sections and untamed wilderness. 

Belz’s goal is to get the community involved in preserving and enjoying the park.

“We need to get attention back to Bidwell,” Belz said.

The evening finished with a brief Q&A and a sharing of warm thank yous and goodbyes. Belz graciously signed and sold copies of his detailed account of Bidwell Park, which can be found downtown at The Bookstore and the Chico History Museum

Callum Standish can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Callum Standish, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Callum Standish is a third year journalism and news major from Castro Valley, California. Standish is in his second semester on The Orion and now serves as the arts and entertainment editor. He has broad interests in cars, music and the environment. Standish enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of Chico on his bicycle and wasting time with friends. His goal is to get everyone involved in the community on-and-off campus. 

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