Don’t wait for ac­cess to San Joaquin River from Fresno

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAREK WARSZA­WSKI [email protected]­nobee.com

go.

That’s my coun­sel to any­one with a de­sire to stroll along, bike near, fish in, float upon or linger be­side the San Joaquin River.

Don’t wait for the lo­cal politi­cians and state bu­reau­crats to sort things out and spruce them up. Just go. Cal­i­for­nia’s sec­ond­longest river hides in plain sight only if you don’t look. Yes, it would be nice if Fresno had a paved road (or two) lead­ing to a park­ing lot on the river bot­tom, with bath­rooms, pic­nic ta­bles, drink­ing foun­tains, garbage cans and 2.4 new miles of the Lewis S. Ea­ton Trail close by.

But we don’t, and it’ll be sev­eral years un­til the River West Open Space Area boasts any of these ameni­ties. That’s true re­gard­less of where you stand in this dizzy­ing, never-end­ing de­bate over mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­cess.

Mean­while those 508 acres of pub­lic land are still there, wait­ing to be ex­plored and en­joyed. In any given week, hun­dreds of folks al­ready do.

You can, as well.

How? Just go out there. Drive, bike or walk to the cor­ner of Palm and Nees av­enues in north Fresno and park in the small cul-de-sac next to Spano Park. Sev­eral bars have been re­moved from the wrought-iron fence in the park’s north­west cor­ner, al­low­ing any­one to pass through and walk to the river bot­tom. Users have stamped out two trails. One goes steeply down the bluff; the other takes a more grad­ual route.

If you pre­fer to bike, just folJust low the ex­ist­ing road (Google Maps calls it “Gravel Haul Rd”) that starts be­hind the Park Place Shop­ping Cen­ter and goes down to the river. From there, a dirt road along the river’s edge leads to the area be­low Spano Park.

An­other op­tion is to head over to Riverview Drive in the nearby Wood­ward Bluffs neigh­bor­hood. At the dead end you’ll prob­a­bly see sev­eral cars al­ready parked. The gate there is locked, but there’s an ad­ja­cent path­way that gets plenty use by walk­ers and cy­clists.

It’s also pos­si­ble to ac­cess River West from the old High­way 41 stub near the Wood­ward Bluffs Mo­bile Home Park. Hik­ers and cy­clists can fol­low the Ea­ton Trail along the north­ern edge of Wood­ward Park to its ter­mi­nus. From there, just take use trails that lead from the vicin­ity of Wild­wood Na­tive Park along the river be­neath the free­way over­pass.

All I ask is that you use the area re­spon­si­bly. To start with, don’t leave trash. In­stead, use the trash cans that vol­un­teers have pro­vided. If you need to go to the bath­room, use the porta potty that re­cently ap­peared. If your dog poops, pick it up. And please: No camp­ing, camp­fires, shoot­ing or hunt­ing.

In other words, don’t be a knuck­le­head.

Spring is the best time of year to visit. Tem­per­a­tures are mild, and ev­ery­thing is lush and green. Wild­flow­ers are sprout­ing. Water­fowl can be seen in abun­dance. And when you stand next to the river, the loud­est sound you hear is the gen­tle flow of mov­ing wa­ter. Some­times, it’s easy to for­get you’re still in Fresno.

Not every­one can en­joy River West in its “unim­proved” state. I get that. Peo­ple with mo­bil­ity im­pair­ments de­pend on park­ing lots and paved trails. Which is why it’s cru­cial that they even­tu­ally get built.

How­ever, if you’re some­one with two fully op­er­a­tional legs that whines and moans when you have to park more than 50 feet from the en­trance of BevMo, no sym­pa­thy. A long walk on a dirt road along the river would prob­a­bly do you some

good.

I would be re­miss not to men­tion there are other places where the pub­lic can en­joy the San Joaquin – with ameni­ties like bath­rooms and pic­nic benches. Of course you’ll have to drive to Fri­ant to en­joy them.

The other op­tion is to hop on High­way 41 north to Chil­dren’s Boule­vard and loop around to Av­enue 9 to Road 40 to Road 7½ and down into Sy­camore Is­land Park. Which sits di­rectly op­po­site River West on the Madera County side.

Let’s also not ig­nore the Kings River, which boasts sev­eral parks with river ac­cess and isn’t far from town. The Kings is def­i­nitely the place to go for trout fish­ing now that the De­part­ment of Fish and Wildlife no longer stocks the San Joaquin be­low Miller­ton Lake.

It’s no se­cret that Fresno suf­fers from crappy parks and a se­vere lack of green space. It’s beyond ridicu­lous that a city of 538,000 has no man­aged ac­cess to the river that makes up its north­west bor­der. Both these things I’ve railed against for years.

Re­gret­tably, we don’t seem to be any closer to mak­ing River West a re­al­ity. And Wed­nes­day’s vote by the San Joaquin River Con­ser­vancy Board, halt­ing progress on a new road at Spano Park in fa­vor of fur­ther stud­ies at Riverview Drive, may re­sult in fur­ther de­lays (i.e. law­suits from the Bluff res­i­dents) even though in the long run it’s a good de­ci­sion.

My ad­vice for the frus­trated, con­fused and weary: Don’t wait a day longer, Fresno. Go en­joy your river.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS ck­[email protected]­nobee.com

The River West Open Ac­cess Area along the San Joaquin River in north Fresno has 508 acres of pub­lic land. While de­bate over how to pro­vide de­vel­oped ac­cess drones on, hun­dreds of peo­ple al­ready en­joy hik­ing, bik­ing, fish­ing and more in the area.

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