Furlough Fridays

For state workers, Furlough Fridays mean lost pay and tighter belts. But there are still plenty of recreational activities available that don’t break a person’s budget. On the first three editions of each month, Capitol Weekly will feature a cost-effective, fun destination – a place we hope will make Furlough Friday a little easier. This week we bring you the American River Bike Trail!

Even for experienced bicyclists who have pedaled in bike-friendly communities across the country, Sacramento’s American River Bike Trail is a standout. It’s 32 miles of paved pathway linking Discovery Park near downtown with Folsom Lake, and it’s a wonderful ride, even when the weather’s not perfect.

Few communities feature so much uninterrupted bike trail. It gets you out in the open. It’s fun and it’s not too crowded — but it’s not so desolate that you feel lonely. You can’t possibly get lost because the entire parkway runs parallel to the light-rail commuter line, U.S. Highway 50 and Folsom Boulevard. Even if you break down, it’s not too hard to get some help.

The western end of the bike trail is in Discovery Park, where the American River meets the Sacramento River just north of Old Sacramento. Discovery Park is a 302-acre greenbelt, accessible by taking the Garden Highway exit off Interstate 5 or by following I Street west through downtown to the West Sacramento approach, then going north at the bridge past the old powerhouse. However, you can cross over the bridge at Discovery Park and continue West and South, on a somewhat less refined trail, into Old Sacramento and beyond down to the Pocket area. However, some of the Old Sac portion of trail is closed this year for repairs, set to reopen next spring.

The trail has an eclectic clientele. On weekends, parents and children make use of the pathway, especially during the spring and summer. Often you’ll see young people or entire families walking down the trail holding inflatable rafts and coolers, heading to one of the many parks and beaches that dot the path. Since the trail officially is designated as a multi-use path, the bicyclists share the trail with walkers, runners, even horses and, sometimes, dogs.

But it’s also a draw for serious bicyclists. Downtown office commuters from Carmichael and further east – even Folsom – follow the trail into town and head back along the trail at night. That’s up to 64 miles a day on the bike – that’s a high-powered bike regimen by any standard – but the Bike Trail is comfortable and fun, making the miles go by quicker than on a busy surface street. Sometimes you’ll see large amateur teams of a couple dozen people on road bikes, moving along at 25 miles an hour or more. You can sometimes even see these convoys at night—well lit up with bike lights, which are a must on the trail at night.

One of the biggest draws is Lake Natoma Recreation Area. Created by the Nimbus Dam, it broadens the American River out into a wide, calm lake. The area is sometimes even used by major rowing competitions by the Sacramento State and UC Davis rowing teams. Just downstream of the dam is a popular fishing area. You’ll often see anglers in rubber waders out in the shallow water. The Nimbus Fish Hatchery, a major source of baby salmon, which offers tours for school groups and other visitors.

When you reach the upper end of the trail, you’ll pass near Folsom Prison the Folsom Dam. Shortly thereafter, you pass a campground, then you’ll let right out onto Folsom Lake. For those who want to do the entire distance from downtown to Folsom and back in one day, a dip in Folsom Lake and the halfway point can be just the motivating refresher you need for the return trip.

According to local historians, the bike trail goes to Folsom through what was the Leidesdorff Ranch, established 1844, a 35,000-acre cattle and wheat ranch that was once owned by William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr., the first African-American diplomat in U.S. History. His holdings covered just over half of the entire American River Parkway.

The American River isn’t the only bike trail in the area. For the more daring, there is the causeway route that takes you alongside I-80 all the way to Davis. Another path of paths head North from Midtown/Downtown—though one of these will take you through some pretty bad neighborhoods. These should be ridden during the day by experienced riders.

It would be better not to have a furlough Friday, but if you are in that group of government workers who are being forced to take Fridays off without pay, you might check out the Bike Trail – if this doesn’t lift your spirits, well, maybe you’re just not riding fast enough…

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