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Special Team Combats Illegal Camping, Crime and Trash Along American River Parkway

SACRAMENTO -- With warmer temperatures headed our way this weekend, and summer just around the corner, the American River Parkway will be a busy spot as usual. The parkway itself stretches 23 miles and it has its share of issues.

Illegal camping, crime and trash are the big three when it comes to problems along the river, and a special park resource team has been put together to help make a difference in those areas.

Before the temperatures reach the 90s or higher, and before the American River is filled with people trying to cool off or use the parkway for running and cycling, it's the job of a special team of park rangers to make the American River Parkway a more beautiful and safer place -- their mission started in January.

"The Park Resource Team is a redesign of our Illegal Camping Team, and what we're really trying to do is consolidate our efforts -- both maintenance and ranger efforts -- into one team to be as efficient and effective as we possibly can," said Jeff Leatherman, director of Sacramento County Regional Parks.

Illegal campsites continue to be a problem along the parkway, especially in the lower six or seven miles of the river. On top of the ongoing enforcement of breaking up the illegal camps, there is also a high priority to remove trash from the camps.

"We have 165 tons of trash that we have accounted for, by that team, that has been removed," Leatherman said.

The parkway itself hasn't been as busy as it will become in the next few weeks, and the director indicated that crime has yet to be an issue, despite the fact that there have been 65 arrests and 150 citations handed out since the beginning of the year.

"If you look at the arrests, those arrests are generally non-parkway or non-regional park related issues that people are arrested for. They are just found in the Regional Park System, and we take appropriate enforcement action at that time," Leatherman said.

As the temperatures continue to rise, and the surrounding vegetation dries out, the threat of fires along the parkway will become a problem like it does every year, but the hope is, with the crackdown on illegal campsites and trash cleanup, there will be less of a threat.

"We do see a number of human-caused fires. Some are accidental, some are intentionally set. In fact, in years past, we've made some arrests," said Chris Harvey with the Sacramento Fire Department.

"We're committed to enforcing all our ordinances on the book. Whether it's illegal fires or illegal camping. So, our effort is to continue our enforcement and our hope is that continues to improve the situation on the parkway," Leatherman said.

The park resource team is not very big. There are just five park rangers and four maintenance crew members for debris removal -- all working hard to protect and keep clean the 23 mile stretch of the American River Parkway.