In The Woods

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The Sun hadn’t yet risen on the morning of Feb. 25, 2015, when a woman went out for a jog on a Roseville trail. She ran along the paved path behind Summerhill Park, its playground untouched and picnic benches empty. She jogged past a patch of open space with Highway 65 in the near distance, dotted with early-morning commuters. It was 5:20 a.m.

Suddenly, the woman was on the ground, knocked down and pinned by a man who had approached her from behind.

The woman was in great physical shape, so she kicked her attacker, who then fled. She had her cellphone and immediately alerted Roseville police, who extensively searched the area and obtained video surveillance from a neighbor. Soon after, a Sacramento County Sheriff K9 and CHP helicopter helped investigate. Nine days later, police arrested the 23-year-old suspect, Kenneth Redick, on suspicion of assault to commit rape and false imprisonment. Redick is currently serving time at a state prison.

Dee Dee Gunther, of the Roseville Police Department, says the jogger’s fast thinking and quick call to law enforcement was critical in the arrest and that despite this scary incident, people should still feel comfortable using the city’s trails. “The more good people we have on the trails, the more it will discourage predators,” she says. “A high rate of use is a great safety measure.”

Trails are urban oases. Roseville, Folsom, Sacramento and other municipalities in our region recognize trails as valuable civic amenities. We lace up our sneakers and get some exercise or clear our minds. We hop on our bikes and pedal off to school, work, shops or parks—reducing traffic and improving air quality in the process. Trails weave along riparian habitat, cut through beautiful oak woodlands and provide close-up views of creeks and rivers. But it’s these very attributes—unpopulated natural settings—that make trails ripe for trouble.

Trail Watchers

People around here like their trails. The American River Parkway, the “Jewel of Sacramento,” beckons an estimated 8 million visitors each year who walk their dogs, go for a run, ride their bikes, picnic with friends or play in the water. 

The parkway’s 32-mile-long Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail extends from Old Sacramento to Beals Point at Folsom Lake. Sacramento County owns, operates and maintains the 23 miles between the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers and Hazel Avenue. This path, along with Sacramento County’s Dry Creek Parkway, are multiuse trails: The asphalt surface is shared by bicyclists, runners, walkers and hikers. On the dirt trails, which also wind through these areas, you’ll find equestrians, runners, hikers, wildlife photographers and nature lovers.

Sacramento County’s park rangers are full-time peace officers who patrol the whole park system, including the trails, from sunrise to one hour past sunset. Rangers attend the same police academies as city police and county sheriffs and are trained to deal with crime, safety and emergencies, according to Karen Doron, a public information officer for Sacramento County. The rangers have access to vehicles, bicycles and dual-sport motorcycles for patrol purposes.

The American River Parkway and Dry Creek Parkway had about 20 crime-related incidents in 2015, including one homicide, indecent exposure, assault with a deadly weapon, a fight between bicyclists, an armed robbery and at least seven cases of assault and battery. Many of the other reports related to illegal camping, car burglaries, vandalism and off-leash dogs. “The number of incidents remains at a low rate, compared to the number of visitors at our parks,” Doron says. “Some incidents occurred when citizens confronted other park users instead of reporting the original incident to the rangers to address.”

Indeed, stranger danger doesn’t pose the only threat: A major potential source of conflict on all trails throughout the region involves negative interactions among users. A bicyclist might break the rules and take a ride on the dirt trails, prompting an angry horseback rider to shout something, provoking a confrontation that could get out of hand. Or a dog might not be leashed, as required, and encounter someone scared of dogs. “All of the ordinances are designed to address safety issues involving trail and park use and conflicts between park visitors,” Doron says. “When visitors follow the rules and guidelines, our parks are safer for all people and wildlife.”

For people who prefer an “urban hike,” a stroll along the levee of the Sacramento River Parkway provides views of Old Sacramento, Miller Park and West Sacramento in the distance. While private homeowners have put up fences and locks to keep citizens off parts of the trail in the Pocket and Little Pocket neighborhoods, the city of Sacramento recently began plans for a 4.5-mile-long paved cycling and pedestrian path, called the Del Rio Trail, through South Land Park, Meadowview and other neighborhoods between Interstate 5 and Freeport Boulevard. The pavement will be laid over an old Sacramento Southern Railroad track.

The Sacramento Police Department doesn’t specifically track incidents on trails, and its database makes it extremely hard to pull this data. But each week it holds a meeting to review local crime trends, which would alert law enforcement to any possible problems along the trails. The city attempts to ensure the safety of these spaces through park safety rangers, who conduct daily foot and vehicle patrols. Police officers also regularly monitor the trails, with the bike unit employed to check out the entire stretch of multiuse/bike trails, along with boat patrollers in waterways that run parallel to them.

In Roseville, a recent survey of residents ranked walking paths and multiuse trails as the most desired recreational facilities—62 percent of respondents walk and jog, and 34 percent use bike trails. The survey found that the city should build at least 19 more miles of trails over the next 20 years. 

Roseville already has more than 30 miles of paved multiuse paths. Some weave through natural areas, and one provides easy access to baseball and soccer fields, a public library and Maidu Museum. “Although walking, bicycling, jogging and dog walking for exercise and recreation are our most popular activities, residents use our trails for many other activities, including getting to work and school, observing nature, birding, taking photos and enjoying the peace and quiet offered by our open spaces,” says Mike Dour, alternative transportation analyst for Roseville. 

Police officers regularly patrol the trails and look for homeless camps that might create an unsafe situation. But they can’t be everywhere at once. On Oct. 28, 2015, a man grabbed a girl walking to her middle school on Roseville’s Linda Creek Trail. The child managed to break free and alerted school officials. A city employee recognized her description of the suspect and knew the man’s name. The suspect is now in Placer County Jail awaiting trail. This was the second of two known incidents to occur on Roseville trails last year.

Folsom’s 45-mile-long trail system had a low number of crime-related incidents in 2015: zero, in fact. The calls into the Folsom Police Department tended to be about noisy kids out on the trails at night, illegal camping, people cursing or causing a disturbance, people acting suspiciously and a few complaints of motor vehicles being where they shouldn’t be, according to Sgt. Andrew Bates. No assaults were reported.

Jim Konopka, senior planner of parks and trails development for Folsom, says visitors should feel “most definitely” safe on Folsom trails, which travel all over the city and are used by recreationists and commuters. “In our system, [the trails] are pretty much in their backyards,” he says. “It’s very convenient to get to. You don’t have to drive to a trailhead.”

Just like Roseville, its neighbor to the northwest, Folsom has built an extensive trail system in response to public demand. The city doesn’t track usage. But stop by a trail on a typical spring or summer weekend and you’ll see the popularity of this amenity. The biggest potential problems here stem from confrontations among users—a bicyclist not following the speed limit or a pedestrian is taking up too much space. “Our main thing is to promote proper etiquette,” Konopka says. Folsom, like Roseville, clears brush over the summer to open up visibility and eliminate nooks and crannies where predators can hide.

Taking Back the Trail

On Feb. 26, 2015, the day after the jogger was attacked on the Roseville trail, a group of nearly 100 women assembled on that very same trail before sunrise to run in solidarity. They were from local chapters of a national group called Moms Run This Town/She Runs This Town. Member Jenn Corcoran helped organize the run (although a sick child kept her home that morning). She joined in May 2014 when her chapter had 150 members. 

When they heard that a female runner had been attacked, the local chapters decided to take a stand. “Our group felt very passionately that all women in the area know that there is a community of like-minded individuals who love running and know the value that it brings to each of our lives,” Corcoran says. They refused to stop doing what they love. On their run of defiance, the women were joined by several police officers.

“We wanted to send a message: Don’t mess with us,” Corcoran says. “Don’t mess with our trails, don’t mess with women. We wanted the female runner who was attacked to know that we supported her and that what happened to her was not OK with any one of us. So the idea to run the same trail, 24 hours later, with a big group of us to show support, was hatched. And it grew, and we showed up. For her. For all of us.”

Organized groups such as Moms Run This Town make finding running partners easy for any time, distance, location or pace. They’ve got the “Dawn Patrol” for early birds and “Night Rangers” for those who favor the evening. But members can post at any time of day, asking other people to show up at a designated meeting spot. “We are a big proponent of running in groups,” Corcoran says. “Many runners run solo because they do enjoy the alone time, but others do solo runs because they assume finding a running buddy is just really hard to do: ‘Who else wants to get up and run at 4:30 a.m.?’” While law enforcement recommends that people stay off the trails when they’re closed (generally from sunset to sunrise), if you’re determined to go for a pre-dawn run, the edict is to do so with a partner.

Since the run last February, Moms Run This Town’s membership has spiked to 1,300 people in nine chapters throughout the area: Roseville, Citrus Heights, Folsom, West Sacramento, Lincoln, Auburn, Elk Grove, Antelope and Granite Bay/Loomis. Gunther of the Roseville Police Department says the women made a powerful statement: “‘You never have to run alone. And we own the trail, not the bad guys.’”

Be Safe Out There

TRAVEL IN NUMBERS Walk, run or bike with others to deter attackers and to have help on hand if you encounter wildlife or get injured on an isolated stretch of trail. Consider joining an organized running or walking group.

DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT Always carry identification and a cellphone. 

GO AT THE RIGHT TIME Don’t use the trails before they open (sunrise) or after they close (sunset).

BE VISIBLE Wear bright colors, reflective vests and headlamps.

OWN THE PATH Project confidence and strength.

PAY ATTENTION Don’t wear earphones, so you can hear what’s happening around you. Be aware at trailhead parking, a hot spot for car burglaries.

ALERT THE AUTHORITIES Report suspicious activity. If you witness a crime or experience a life-threatening situation, call 911. The American River Parkway has stationed call boxes for emergencies.

TRACK YOURSELF Use Road ID or Garmin Connect LiveTrack to let people at home keep tabs on your route. Some have panic features that alert the recipient if you stop moving.

SHARE THE TRAIL Leave room for others to pass and be respectful of other users to prevent problems.