Citrus Heights Sentinel Logo

What happens when your backyard becomes part of Rusch Park?

A home at 7429 Antelope Road was originally built as a residence but is now owned and used by the park district. // S. Williams

By Sara Beth Williams–
For almost 70 years, three generations of the Baca family resided at a 1,600-square-foot home on Antelope Road, surrounded by Rusch Park property. Now the home belongs to the parks district.

The home that currently stands at 7429 Antelope Rd. was built by the Baca Family in 1949, according to records from the Citrus Heights Historical Society. Over the decades, three generations of family members would reside in the home: grandparents Emma Padilla Baca and Gonzalo Baca, their three children, and eventually their grandchildren.

Jennifer Nichols Thomas was the youngest grandchild to grow up in the home alongside her two older brothers, Dan and Mark Nichols. She spoke with The Sentinel in an interview on Friday by phone.

“My memories growing up there as a child were fantastic,” Thomas said, adding that the home was built by her grandparents and then purchased by her mother Esther Baca in the late 1960s. Thomas remained in the home for over 20 years.

Citrus Heights Historical Society President Larry Fritz explained to The Sentinel that the land the Baca family purchased in order to build their home was not included in the Volle Ranch acreage, which was then owned by Fred and Julia Rusch. The Rusch property boundary was north of the Baca property.

According to the Sunrise Recreation and Park District website, the Rusch siblings did not donate their land to become a park until 1951, two years after the Baca family built their home. Later, the Rusch siblings donated additional land in two more increments.

Thomas said the park was built around her mother’s home, which she called the “Baca house” and that her mother lived there from 1949 until she passed away.

According to a 2017 historical society interview, Thomas’ grandmother (Emma Padilla Baca) was the oldest of fourteen children. All the Padilla children came together to help build the home, which took several years. Thomas said her grandfather engraved a large “E” into the entryway from the living room into the dining room, which stood for Emma.

Growing up, Thomas recalled going swimming for ten cents, and watching her brothers play baseball. Some of her favorite memories, Thomas said, involved summer nights barbecuing with the entire extended family in the backyard, and trying to beat the timed sprinklers by running through without getting wet.

“I used to go play on the playground by myself,” Thomas said. “Mom would come out and yell for me to come back home.”

She added that kids playing at the park would sometimes mistake their personal swing set in their backyard for park equipment because they did not have a fence surrounding their backyard.

During the historical society’s interview, Thomas’ brother, Mark Nichols, recalled how he and his brother mowed the lawn around their home, while unaware of the park boundary lines. Years later, when the boys found out, they were unhappy to discover they’d mowed more than they had to.

When asked about the changes she observed throughout Rusch Park over the years, Thomas mentioned pine and oak trees were more plentiful throughout the park, some of which fell over the years.

Over time, park staff trimmed and thinned out the thick pine trees because thick trees encouraged an increased population of transients. She said her mother never complained when park goers would wander onto their property line, transient or otherwise.

“Amazingly enough it was just one of those places that people respected,” Thomas said, adding that she was not aware of her mom ever experiencing any attempted burglaries.

Thomas began to notice an increase in transient activity in the early 2000s whenever she and her siblings would come to visit. By the time her mom passed unexpectedly in 2017, Thomas said staying overnight at the house caused her to have “nightmares” over the fear of break-ins by surrounding transients.

Thomas called the Baca house a “legacy” and said she and her brothers “could never imagine another family living there.”

The family decided to contact the Sunrise Recreation and Park District and offer to sell the property directly to the district. Sunrise Recreation and Parks District Director Dave Mitchell confirmed in an email that the property was transferred to the SRPD district and that the home is now used for office space, meeting rooms and planning.

“The park has been so good to us. Dave Mitchell was wonderful,” Thomas said. “We can still go there anytime and visit the home.”

Like local news? Sign up for The Sentinel’s free email edition and get two emails a week with all local news and no spam, ever. (Click here)