Auburn Recreation District close to sealing deal on new parks

PG&E providing two parcels in North Auburn, Christian Valley
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn Recreation District is closing in on an agreement to secure a prime piece of parkland in North Auburn from Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The 22-acre parcel is located southwest of the New Airport Road-Bell Road intersection.

The district has been working for more than a year on the transaction through the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council. Administrator Kahl Muscott said that transaction documents are now being perused by the district’s attorneys. The district is getting the land at no cost and the council is helping to fund any incidental expenditures related to the transfer.

Early on, the district has not formulated a plan for the Bell Road parcel – or another 42-acre site it is to receive under the same agreement with PG&E off Dry Creek Road, near Interstate 80. The Dry Creek Road-Christian Valley Road land is known as the Tutor Totter property because of a preschool on the site. The district will expand its holdings at that location. The property also includes a small ball field but the rest of the land is hilly and wooded.

The Bell Road property is smaller but seen by parks officials as a better opportunity to develop for recreation.

“We’re at the super, super-conceptual stage,” Muscott said. “Thoughts include a walking trail with an interpretive area because there is a wetland area.”

Other initial ideas include a nature playground and picnic units, Muscott said.

“And possibly a small dog park, but the walking trail and playground would be an initial step,” he said. “It’s raw property now.”

Muscott said that the stewardship council has agreed to fund some of the upfront costs, including providing money for legal fees. Once the deal is completed, there could also be funding from the stewardship council for improvements, but the amount has yet to be determined, he said.

The parks district is limited in funds available because it is dependent on developer fees and those have slowed in recent years.

Director Scott Holbrook said that the transfer of the Tutor Totter property would be an immediate benefit because the district would no longer have to pay rent there.

Holbrook said the initial focus, dependent on funding, would be to establish access, parking and perhaps a restroom facility at the Bell Road location.

The district is working with the community on developing a BMX “pump track” but Holbrook, who supports the idea, said that it’s unlikely the facility would be located at the Bell Road location.

Director Gordy Ainsleigh said the Bell Road site would be too expensive to develop as a ball field but could prove a magnet for some outside funding if a nature pathway can be built there. Ainsleigh said he’d also like to see the idea of a cross-country course that could combine archery and running studied by the district.

Muscott said that at this point, there is no time line to develop the property and the district board still must approve the final land agreement.

The council is a private, nonprofit foundation established eight years ago as part of PG&E bankruptcy proceedings. A major goal is to ensure that more than 140,000 acres of watershed lands are conserved for public purposes.