Illegal Camping an Unsolvable Problem?

Unfortunately, that seems to be the opinion of the county’s new head park ranger, as quoted in today’s article from the Sacramento Bee; and it appears to be a far cry from county administration’s response quoted in a Marcus Breton column from September 19, 2012.

An excerpt.

Beginning today, Sacramento County authorities will begin taking several significant steps aimed at saving the American River Parkway from environmental harm caused by illegal camping.

Large swaths of Sacramento’s gorgeous urban park have been degraded by human waste, fires and enough debris for 2,000 volunteers to collect 14,000 pounds of garbage over the weekend.

Today, teams of park rangers and sheriff’s deputies will begin enforcing a dusk-to-dawn closure of the parkway with a goal of preventing people from camping there overnight.

A representative of the county’s Department of Human Assistance will be on hand beginning Sunday to provide homeless campers with information on housing options.

A county memo detailing the operation states: “The enforcement will be daily and continue indefinitely. This is not a short-term effort.”

The Sacramento Police Department has a role to play and may conduct enforcement sweeps several times a week.

In past years, such actions tended to be viewed as unkind treatment of homeless campers by members of the public and the media.

That should not be the case.

When North Sacramento residents become afraid to ride their bikes along parkway trails – and when the native ecosystem of a valuable Sacramento resource becomes threatened – it’s time to act.

Retrieved June 6, 2014 from

An excerpt from today’s article in the Sacramento Bee.

John Havicon, Sacramento County’s new chief park ranger, was responding to a call about marijuana use in Rio Linda Central Park in 1996 when a suspect shot him in the chest. Thanks to a bulletproof vest, the ranger survived.

It was a dramatic moment in a 30-year career that culminated May 18 in Havicon’s appointment as the county’s chief park ranger. In his new job, Havicon oversees 17 rangers covering 15,000 acres of land across 32 recreation areas. The rangers hold the rank of deputy county sheriff and are responsible not only for maintaining the parks, but also for enforcing state laws. One of three candidates interviewed for the position, Havicon served as a park ranger supervisor for 10 years and a ranger for 17 before that.

“I love working with the community and being able to get not only our rangers involved in the parks, but the rest of the community,” Havicon said. “I think it’s an exciting time for us.”

One of the park service’s most important tasks is protecting the 23-mile-long American River Parkway. Homeless encampments along the heavily used bike and running path have caused controversy for the regional parks department in recent years, with critics saying the county needs to do more to address the problem. Illegal campers lack access to bathrooms and trash disposal facilities, so waste accumulates in the areas where they congregate, creating health hazards and threatening wildlife. Recreational parkway users and nearby property owners have raised concerns about safety.

Havicon said he plans to continue the county’s strategy of issuing citations to illegal campers as rangers encounter them during their patrols. He acknowledged that this practice does not deter campers from returning to their sites, or simply moving to another area of the parkway.

“We’re not going to solve the problem no matter what we do,” Havicon said. “The problem’s always going to be there. The best we can do is manage what we have.”

He estimated the department issued 2,000 illegal camping citations last year, and thinks 100 to 200 people are camping in the woods adjacent to the parkway on any given night.

Retrieved June 6, 2014 from

ARPPS congratulates Chief Ranger Havicon on his new responsibilities, but we believe this is a solvable problem, but it requires steadfast administrative support and Park Ranger law enforcement action involving removing camps (connected with strong assistance from homeless service organizations) rather than merely handing out citations.

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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