Leave No Trace
Local naturalist is on mission to clean up Sacramento
By Cathryn Rakich
She always wanted to be a “nature person.” But owning her own business and playing and singing in bands around town kept Allyson Seconds too busy for life in the great outdoors.
Until she adopted her first dog, Lulu—and everything changed. “I go to the river easily 300 out of 365 days a year,” says the fitness trainer, singer, musician, photographer, avid hiker and certified naturalist.
Between 2006 and 2010, Seconds and her border collie/lab mix made daily treks to Sutter’s Landing Park, a 167-acre recreation area along the American River Parkway. “Those were the pristine days at Sutter’s Landing,” says Seconds, who discovered the area years before it was home to a dog park, skate park and basketball courts. “That was before a lot of people started going there. It wasn’t trashy. It was just beautiful.”
Seconds spotted coyotes, deer and other wildlife. “But it has suffered from all the same reasons any area would with more traffic,” she says. “There were no homeless camps. It was just people going to the river and not respecting it.”
Soon after, she rescued her second dog, Hank, a lab/pit bull mix abandoned at Sutter’s Landing. But Lulu and Hank were not people-pups. As human interactions increased, Seconds searched for a more remote area to explore with her canine companions. “That’s how I found Woodlake,” she says.
Woodlake is a stretch of meadow grass, wildflowers and towering oaks along the American River Parkway behind REI and Costco off Exposition Boulevard. “There were hardly any living souls out there back then. It was the American River Parkway untouched.”
A self-described “nature nerd,” Seconds made Woodlake her second home, hiking and swimming the area every day with her dogs. In addition to native brush and decades-old oaks, an open meadow turns lush green in the spring with wild radish and flowering trees.
“Woodlake was gorgeous,” she says, until around 2014 when Seconds started noticing more and more homeless camps. In one area adjacent to the meadow, under a giant canopying fig tree, campers carved out living spaces deep into a “homeless maze of trash.”
She met a camper named Mike—she called him the “Mayor of the Meadow.” He was respected. He was honest. “He had a good relationship with almost everyone out there,” she says.
With dog rescue on her mind, she turned to Mike. “He was my gateway to the camps. He promised I would never be harmed. It was a whole different culture.”
Seconds recalls three litters of puppies. The first was a family of pit bulls owned by a camper who lived in the “homeless maze.” Mike led Seconds through the twists and turns of trash and gnarled fig branches to reach the puppies. The camper didn’t want money. He just wanted Seconds to find the young canines good homes.
Rescue of the next litter, shepherd/rottweiler mixes, fell through when the area flooded and the camper moved on, eventually giving the puppies away.
Seconds raised $600 in exchange for the third litter—also pit bulls. “The guy was punching his puppies because they were making noise,” she says. “I hated paying him, but I decided we needed to get those puppies out of there.”
Seconds stopped visiting her beloved Woodlake in 2017 when the area became increasingly occupied and garbage ridden. “It was like mourning the loss of a friend,” she says. Hank and Lulu also required her hospice care before passing away. But trash was still on her mind.
Seconds lives in North Oak Park with her husband and two new dogs. She co-owns Sacramento Fitness Collective on North D Street. Her commute takes her past 33rd and X streets, two blocks from Alhambra and Broadway. “There is quite a trash situation right around there,” she says. “The corner is just overrun with folks camping, and piles and piles of trash that go out to the street.” When she arrives at her warehouse gym, “there’s more blight. I go from trash to trash.”
In addition to the local garbage she encounters, Seconds began taking note of the trash found on backpacking trips to the coast and Sierras. “I started becoming quite a nut about the concept ‘leave no trace.’ But we’re leaving our trace everywhere.”
So she created Sacramento Picks It Up!
Seconds launched a Facebook group—now more than 700 members—and organized crews to perform “trash and tackle pickups.” They clear local waterways of discarded fishing line and lures, and rescue injured wildlife.
Now, Sacramento Picks It Up! is a hub for people to join or create a pickup event, or post a photo of trash collected on a walk. “Because every tiny bit counts,” says Seconds, who calls herself a “guerrilla garbage getter.”
“Everybody has the power,” she says. “You start to see trash everywhere you go. But instead of walking by it, we pick it up.”
Sacramento Picks It Up! teams with Save the American River Association for cleanup days. To volunteer, visit sarariverwatch.org or join Sacramento Picks It Up! on Facebook.
Cathryn Rakich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.