Henderson Open Space – The Restoration and Recovery of a Public Treasure


Randall Smith – known as Randy – is a retired physician and community activist who for more than a decade now (many of these as the environmental chair for the Rotary Club of Redding) has been working with the California department of Fish and Wildlife and the City of Redding spearheading a native plant restoration project in an area known as the Henderson Open Space, a 35 acre parcel of public land along the Sacramento River with Redding’s City Limits.

Randy and I have been corresponding for many months now about the project and its remarkable progress from overgrown and impenetrable tangle of rubbish and blackberries to accessible park, 18 hole disk golf course and nature trails along the river showcasing Redding history along the way. As Randy wrote to me early on “Poor, yet spectacular, Henderson is truly the Cinderella of Redding’s parks.” I had the pleasure of walking the property with him one spring day and learning more.

PHOTO: “In late February this year, a handsome permanent Henderson Open Space sign was installed. Interestingly, all the adhesive except four strips stayed with the mounting platform. So, theft will be doubly difficult. The careful work of Julia Cronin at Turtle Bay and that of others made possible this informative, long lasting and decorative piece. That this most recent addition matches those found throughout Redding’s trail system. The dozen logos at the bottom of this sign are witness to the collaborative effort this project engendered. It is most fitting that such wonderful public property should be now held in high regard by so many, especially after languishing for decades under the control of wicked non native vegetation and rueful neglect.”

Q: What in your mind is the mission of this project:

A: “The purpose or mission of the Henderson Open Space Recovery (Restoration) Project is to demonstrate that hand tools and voluntary human effort are effective and inexpensive weapons in overcoming years of neglect which had produced a thirty five acre impenetrable non native plant jungle on a public site of rare beauty, historical significance and natural value in the center of Redding along the Sacramento River.”

PHOTO: PROGRESS recorded along the way was the result of many groups’ and individuals’ participation: Feb 2014 – Despite a disastrously dry winter, almost every buckeye nut planted early last fall has sent up a bright and attractive new tree. Terri Thesken of the Shasta CNPS said it would be so, but I was sure they would fail without early moisture. They have been through this drought business before and are smarter than many of us. Because I was so conservative in choosing locations, Henderson will have groves of these plants rather than be spread thinly and widely. May be that result is more natural. Also, the rare calla lily from South Africa has burst forth in someone’s long forgotten garden south of the stone house foundation on the east bench in Henderson. Wood ducks and other species are seen everywhere there is water. The place is coming alive after being buried and lost for over half a century. ”

Community Involvement has been key to the success of this project. As Randy wrote to me in December of 2013: “Community Creek Clean Up came twice, the California Conservation Corps was there for a month using a chipper every day, Bethel performed miracles four times, Work Release crews labored five days and over fifty fires consumed more than double that number of brush piles including three giant blazes today which cleared fourteen piles. After seventeen months of work, the area in Henderson Open Space north of Free Bridge Road is finally liberated. There are a few willow thickets which are not perfect, but California Department likes cover along the River and sterile places are uninteresting anyway. Terry’s log deck is still present, but hope remains that this will be removed eventually and there will be treatment coming to Himalayan blackberry which continues to misunderstand the meaning of surrender.”

Q: What have been the most significant accomplishments of this project to date?

A: “Thus far, a formerly confluent non native plant overburden has been ninety five percent eliminated. This morass consisted of dense 8 to 10 foot tall Himalayan blackberry, Arundo, black locust, Ailanthus, English ivy, Privet, mulberry, mimosa, common poke weed, Uruguayan primrose, other non native plants and decades of accumulated dead, fire prone ladder fuels and assorted forest debris. Illegal camping has ceased or become easy to find and eliminate, if such activity recurs. An eighteen hole, peerless west coast disc golf course has been built, likewise, a skate board area has been established in a former gravel sorting concrete ruin and an off leash dog walking site permitted besides the benefits to walkers, waders, runners, bikers, bird watchers, fisher people, small water craft users and others now flocking to this lovely forested riparian savanna. Regenerating a full range of Northern California native plants remains to be achieved, but beginning plantings have occurred and will continue as well as maintenance to insure that unwanted species do not return.”

PHOTOS: The site is home to many public artifacts of historic importance – the bridge, the slough, an old power station. Beyond that, many families and individuals have generations of history along this stretch of the river. In December of 2013, Randy shared this story: “Jan Mikkelson is coming from Fresno this week to bury her mother’s ashes. The ashes belong to a Hemsted who lived 99 years and died this past spring. In September, Jan donated funds for a public concrete bench which was purchased and installed along the River by Rotary (two clubs) in the Henderson Open Space (HOS). The Hemsted ranch house foundation was meticulously uncovered by Bethel international students in HOS last week. This visitor should have many things to share with your readers by touring the bench and ranch house locations this Friday morning, 20 Dec. Many decades ago, Jan rode a horse while visiting her grandmother who lived at this until recently lost home-site. One of the many places Jan rode was to the nearby home of her cousin, Hank Woodrum.”

Among the many native plants restored to the area, Randy was able after months of research to locate a source for three native azaleas which have always grown in the area. He sources the plants from Polo De Lorenzo’s Sonoma Horticultural Nursery in Sebastopol.

In October 2013, Randy sent this report on the work accomplished after the 19th work visit by Bethel students:

“Those who have not worked beside the international consortium of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) students, international students in an initiative which holds that service in anonymity is worship, cannot fully appreciate what it means to have them again in Redding. The 19th effort with them in Henderson Open Space yesterday was like the others: successful, impressive, dedicated and spirited. Yet there were subtle differences. Universal among the four divided groups, there was a questioning to be certain the right thing was being done. And may be because of the Indian summer warmth, there were too many scratches, torn clothing and youthful sweat dripping faces.

The mission prepared ground for seeding, piled material for eventual burning, completed clearance of areas missed or incompletely vanquished last year. The four groups were named “Original”, “Dan Fehr”, “Garden” and “Wilderness”. They stretched the middle half of the parcel and all accomplished what was given to them despite conditions which were often difficult. The “Original” group working without power equipment had the assignment to dismember and make burn piles of the house size Arundo stand which was taken down in March of 2006 by the Allied Stream Team of Rotary Club of Redding. Fully armored “Dan Fehr” made both banks of the inflow creek to Thatcher Pond safe for democracy. They went further than expected and gave a trimming to the only remaining cluster of native blackberry on the property. However, good came from this occurrence as there was trash found and by next summer everything will have replaced itself with new, healthy canes.

The “Garden” crew worked the southern end of the California Native Plant Society plantings. They created pathways to be seeded and protected a dozen already installed one gallon native plants. Four huge fire piles were made from the rubble of last year’s effort against towering Himalayan blackberry. North of this group, the “Wilderness” cohort took down treated stands of Johnson grass and thickets of slash filled Himalayan blackberry which were crispy brittle, but often ensnared those who cleared this area.

They came from many faraway homes: Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, many places in the US and others which were not apprehended in our time together. They used tools like Council rakes and long pole hedge trimmers which they had never seen. They battled exotic plants from as wide an area as their own origins. And they never quit, never asked for anything except direction, never complained. Better people will not be found. ”

Q: What in your mind is the larger, philosophical importance of projects such as this one?

A: “Dis-spoiled natural environments are the same as dilapidated homes or disheveled businesses. They breed trouble; they are irresponsible conduct. Besides restoration and now use by the public of a very worthwhile, formerly lost, resource asset, the project has shown what can be done and what should be done so that others are inspired to follow this example on public as well as private land in our area and elsewhere. Stewardship of land is not solely a government responsibility; this intangible is a shared community obligation.”

“Thanks belong to all who came to this forgotten yet lovely place and never lost faith in recovery for a one time impassible tangle.”

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Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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6 Responses

  1. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    Many thanks to Jennifer Jewell who came from Chico to cover this story. I am personally gratified that writer understood so well the contribution of Bethel’s wonderful students. Without their tireless endeavor, the sand in my personal hour glass would have all fallen to the bottom before Henderson was recovered. The twenty four Bethel days of miracle work serve as a beacon in these dark times of worry and questioning.

    Also, the recovered ranch house foundation on the property is still a mystery. When Jan M. arrived from Fresno to see her gift in honor of her mother, she said the Hemsted home was under the former Raley’s location. Someone was there in Henderson and loved that bench above the floodplain as there are many many planting which survive in this recaptured garden from the very long ago.

    A genuine treat awaits those who are looking for something different, something timeless, ever changing and reminding us of the way things were before Shasta Dam and Smokey the Bear.

    Thank you again to Jennifer and to “A News Cafe” for telling this story and encouraging more people to visit a lovely natural area in the very middle of Redding.

  2. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    I have driven by the Henderson Open space from time to time over the past 35 year and wondered that it hadn’t been snapped up by some developer. How grateful we all should be that it wasn’t and that someone as knowledgeable and energetic and visionary as Randall Smith is here to husband this urban treasure. Thank you, Randall!

  3. Avatar Tom says:

    This has turned into another great gem in the middle of Redding. Love adding a dirt-trail to my runs around Redding! Thank you to everyone who has made this possible, great work!

  4. Jennifer, thank you for featuring Randy and his Henderson Open Space project. His work here is unrivaled in terms of scope and transformation. The before and after pictures are stunning.

    Randy, thank you for your tireless labor to bring health and natural beauty to not just the Henderson Open Space, but the far reaches of Shasta County.

    We are so lucky to have someone like Jennifer to share the story, and Randy as a living example of what one – retired – person can do to improve the place we live.

  5. Avatar Sally says:

    What a GREAT article. I haven’t been there yet, but certainly look forward to enjoying the tremendous work and dedication to those that again enriched our community! THANK YOU!!!

  6. Avatar Jeffery says:

    I find it ironic that so many of Redding’s own people regard this as a hidden treasure?
    No doubt, it truly is but some of the same people want to give away another treasure that truly belongs to the people of Redding. Yes, I’m referring to land for another hotel. Once gone you can almost never retrieve it back.