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Caper Acres

By Brian Barsuglia

Paige Gimbal, CLCA, RAI, CID
Greg Melton, Landscape Architect

Ravaged by storms in the 1990s, the Caper Acres play area was recently updated and rennovated. The large play area, built into a park, is filled with slides and jungle gyms, each with a fairy tale or fantasy theme.

Nestled in the nation's third largest park, surrounded by 100-year-old Qurecus lobata (valley oak trees), is a playground uniquely its own -- Caper Acres. Caper Acres has been a fixture of the 3,618-acre Bidwell Park since 1962. Located in Chico, California, the park was deeded to the city by its founders in 1905, John and Annie Bidwell.

Large sections of the park are undeveloped canyon areas filled with oaks and sycamores. One of its greatest claims to fame is that the "Adventures of Robin Hood," starring Errol Flynn, was filmed in the majesty of Bidwell Park. The park, which remains in the public trust, has special rules for use: no glass containers, no alcohol and no hunting.

Caper Acres Enhancement Masterplan. The rendering reveals the updated and newly added play features to Caper Acres: (1) a reformed big cheese, (2) rebuilt Crooked House (3) mine shafts with larger tunnels and safety railing, (4) the longstanding Fort Apache, (5) slides on the tree fort, (6) the new Sherwood Castle, and (7) a reconstructred Humpty Dumpty.

Caper Acres is built into the park and encompassed by the natural surroundings. The large play area is filled with slides and jungle gyms, each with a fairytale or fantasy theme.

There's the Crooked House; the Humpty Dumpty play area; the maze of tunnels; the Big Cheese; the tree structure; the lion, and more. Sound intriguing? To a child it most definitely is, and even more so after a series of recent renovations and upgrades to revitalize Caper Acres.

The Crooked House was completely demolished after storms severely damaged the structure. The play structure was reconstructed and its slide updated.

In the mid-1990s, age and nature got the better of the 30-year-old playground. A powerful storm caused many of the oak trees to tumble. Elements of the playground were so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. Caper Acres was temporarily closed; even the annual Easter egg hunt was cancelled!

“I get great satisfaction watching my kids and others ramble around the site, up and down the slides, and through the structures,” -- Greg Melton.--Paige Gimbal

After the storm, the city and the Building Industry Association (BIA) spearheaded reconstruction. Jim Mann, landscape architect and BIA president, orchestrated; Greg Melton served as the project manager and designer.

The renovation consisted of adding and replacing equipment, reconstructing damaged equipment, updating features, and planting new trees. The task involved the labors of multiple companies and volunteers sharing the common goal of reviving Caper Acres.

One of the casualties of the storms was this tree fort. Its renovation involved a new design and construction. Two new slides and an elevated enclosed cage were added.

The majority of the play structures are custom designs. The renovation insured that Caper Acres would meet access and safety standards. Railing and fall material were added throughout the site per requirements of play areas. Examples can be found on the Crooked House, in which updated equipment with elevated enclosures was added, and on the Big Cheese, where railings and fall safe materials were constructed. New handicap access walks from the parking lot were provided and security lighting is on the way (spring 2004).

The Crooked House

One of the most badly damaged structures was the Crooked House and its slide. The longstanding feature had to be demolished. Residential builders Ritchie Homes, an appropriate namesake, rebuilt Crooked House.

Tree Fort

A second slide was added and its play features updated with new equipment. The slides and other play pieces were ordered from Miracle Recreation. The new equipment has safety features, such as the elevated enclosures, which help insure kids can't fall from the higher elements of the play structure.

Sherwood Castle was designed with open play areas and handicapped access. Its play structures include a four-foot tube slide, a balance beam, and crawl tubes.

Humpty Dumpty

One of the more popular features in Caper Acres is the Humpty Dumpty sand play area. Humpty is made from chicken wire and plaster. While Humpty weathered the storms, time had faded the colors, and slowly cracked apart the famous egg. Rather than put Humpty back together, he was rebuilt and the entire play area was repainted.

“It was really quite an amazing experience to have been part of the effort to rebuild Caper Acres,”--Paige Gimbal

The Tunnels

Created to look like old mines, the tunnels originally had a diameter of 36 inches. The tunnels were redesigned to fit five-foot concrete culvert pipe. Parents and adults are now better able to view and access the tunnels. Also, small sections of gates were placed above the tunnels for safety.

The Entry

New planting and the installation of a brick entry took place at the gate and drawbridge entryway. The renovation of Caper Acres was a community effort with a number of donors contributing funds to the project. In recognition of the donors a brick entry has been constructed just outside the entry gates. This work-in-progress has a large green circle surrounded by hundreds of donor bricks.

The lion drinking fountain was added to Caper Acres during the renovation.

A local perennial nursery designer and installer, Marilynn Cannon, assisted with the entry project. Ms. Cannon redid the plantings at the park's entrance.

The Castle

Sherwood Castle, inspired by the "Adventures of Robin Hood," is a new feature made of split-faced blocks; it also has a matching castle-like restroom. Sherwood has mystical characters painted throughout it, adding to the fairytale theme. The castle is perched on a small hill in the middle of the park, "protecting" Caper Acres. A meandering pathway leads to the suspension bridge that crosses the castle moat.

Fort Apache was one of the few structures that was not heavily damaged in the storms. The original structure remains intact.

Other Changes

A gravel pathway now connects Caper Acre's play features. The path winds through the entire park and provides disable access. Paige Gimbal, along with a group of CLCA contractors, installed the park's new irrigation system. Finally, the tree fort was redesigned and updated.

Surronded by valley oak trees, the tree fort was reconstructed and Sherwood Castle was a new addition.

"It was really quite an amazing experience to have been part of the effort to rebuild Caper Acres," exclaimed Paige Gimbal.

Caper Acres now averages 200 visitors on a daily basis, with as many as 500 per day on the weekends. And, the Easter egg hunt is back in action. Every year thousands of children search the park for eggs.

Horseshoe shaped picnic tables provide a place for families to celebrate birthdays in Caper Acres.

"I get great satisfaction watching my kids and others ramble around the site, up and down the slides, and through the structures," observed Greg Melton, project manager and designer.

Storms and time led to the Humpty Dumpty sand play area being renovated. Humpty was rebuilt and the entire structure repainted.


Land Image: project management and design
Ritchie Homes: Crooked House
Nichols Melburg and Rosetto Architects: Bathroom Castle
The Rotary: Ttree Fort
Normac: irrigation system
Baldwin Contracting: concrete culvert pipe

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November 19, 2019, 10:22 pm PDT

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