A Golden Park Idea

Gold Rush Park—they have a page on Facebook—is a great concept and one we have been supportive of since its beginning advocacy by Joe Genshlea and Jack  Diepenbrock many years ago and this article in the Sacramento Bee is welcome.

An excerpt.

As a child growing up in Sacramento, my first exposure to a great civic park wasn’t in Sacramento, but rather Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I remember hundreds of cyclists, joggers and – because it was the ’70s – roller skaters, forming a colorful blur of activity as they traversed its seemingly endless trails and wide expanses of green grass and trees.

I also remember the crowds at the blockbuster King Tut exhibition at the de Young Museum and the old planetarium.

Even though all of this was in a park, it felt like the busiest city I’d ever been in.

In my 20s, I moved to New York, and for nearly a decade, lived only a block from Central Park. My wife and I watched the symphony and opera perform there while lounging on picnic blankets stocked with provisions from Zabar’s. We rode the paddle boats in the summer, watched skaters on the ice rink in the winter and visited the polar bears in the Central Park Zoo. On temperate days, we walked past the Delacorte Theater where works by Shakespeare ruled the stage and made our way to the roof garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to gaze out over the city.

All in a park.

Little did I know that while I was still in New York in 2003, back in Sacramento, one man was steadfastly promoting a similar vision for my hometown. It’s been 10 years since Joe Genshlea – a prominent local attorney and one of the city’s most ardent champions – first floated the idea of a civic park that would rival any in the country.

His idea was simple but bold: Build a great urban park along the south banks of the American between the river and the downtown railyard. His project, dubbed Gold Rush Park, included all of the amenities previously mentioned in the parks of San Francisco and New York. He suggested moving the Sacramento Zoo from Land Park to this larger space, along with adding museums, performance spaces and lots of wide open land next to the crystal-clear waters of the American River, an area now largely, and inexcusably, dominated by industrial warehouses and a nascent residential neighborhood called Township 9.

Genshlea and fellow Sacramento attorney Jack Diepenbrock raised money and hired one of the country’s pre-eminent park-planning firms to lay the groundwork and begin producing conceptual designs.

As simple as the concept was, Genshlea and his supporters knew that the execution of it would be one of the biggest challenges the city has ever faced. With many individual landowners, including the government, the challenge of purchasing and razing buildings there to make room for such a space was daunting to say the least. And while many of the region’s most prominent civic leaders rallied around the cause, a handful of vocal private landowners who wanted to develop the land opposed it loudly, and the City Council didn’t exhibit the bold leadership that it should have. It’s a shame.

A decade hence, Genshlea still has many of the files, maps and detailed records of landowners, and says that hardly a week passes when someone doesn’t ask him why that project never got the traction it deserved. “It just won’t go away,” he says.

Nor should it.

In June, the Center for City Park Excellence, a research arm of the respected Trust for Public Land, ranked Sacramento third nationally – behind only New York and Minneapolis – for park excellence. That sounds impressive, and it is. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. For all our great little community parks nestled amid tree-lined residential neighborhoods, our city lacks the one large-scale park in an urban setting – a destination park – that could be as transformative for downtown as the new arena promises to be.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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