A favorite kids' park in Chico is facing the budget ax. Starting Monday, July 8, Caper Acres at Bidwell Park will be open three fewer days.
Under new budget cuts, the playground will be open only three days a week; Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Currently Caper Acres is only closed Monday.
This week the city announced the park would be closed Monday through Thursday every week. On a typical weekday, the area attracts 200 parents and children.
Abigail Lopez is one of the regulars. She’s started a grass roots effort to lobby city hall to keep Caper Acres open the current six days a week.
”I have a 5-year-old son with autism and one of the most important things about it is that it's fenced,” said Lopez. “Kids with autism and special needs like to wander. On top of that it's magical. It's got that fairy-tale feel to it that none of the other parks in town have.”
Public works director Ruben Martinez announced the reduced playground hours earlier this week. He said it’s definitely hit a nerve with parents.
Martinez was one of the five department heads who were kept after a city-wide consolidation by new city manager Brian Nakumura.
After meeting with city staff about Caper Acres Friday morning, he said closing the park an additional three days each week will save the city approximately $19,000. That’s half the total amount needed to run the playground each year.
”We have to go in to do clean-up first thing in the morning,” said Martinez. “Then do a second round to make sure everything is still presentable. There's safety check on the equipment.”
But Lopez says she and other volunteers would do the work for free just to keep the park open for six days.
”I've been getting people I know on Facebook, that I know in real life to join this cause,” said Lopez. “I've been letting people know about it. So far I have about 55 people interested.”
Grassroots efforts like Lopez’s may make a difference. The attention is catching the eye of the new city staff. One of them said off-camera he didn't realize what a big deal Caper Acres is to Chico residents. But he does now.
You can learn more about Abigail Lopez’s volunteer group by going to “Caper Acres Volunteers” on Facebook.