Ceres area residents who want to feel a little closer to nature without driving too far might want to check out the now-open lower terrace of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.
Located on the south side of the Tuolumne River and east of River Oaks Golf Course, the restored section of the park is a place to enjoy some tranquility among the ducks and Canadian geese and other varieties of birds that enjoy paddling on the peaceful ponds
The lower terrace of the park on Hatch Road – which was mostly formerly planted in walnut trees – had been closed for restoration work to its more native riparian habitat as well as the planting of landscaping and installation of other amenities. In 2018 the city contracted with Hanford Applied Restoration & Conservation to perform $1.7 million worth of work to restore 17 acres of former walnut orchard to the natural river state with the planting of willows, sycamore, cottonwood and London Plaintree and create a storm drain basin, add trails and picnic tables and add the non-motorized boat ramp.
The contract included removal of the abandoned orchard, constructing and expanding wetlands that will be filled year round when there is no storm runoff; completing a trail system started under a previous River Parkways grant; installing an efficient irrigation system; and completing the planting of native drought tolerant plants. The last work to be completed was the installation of trail signage and finishing landscaping planting and irrigation.
With the lower terrace of the park open, the public has improved access to the Tuolumne River, with improved riparian and floodplain habitat, and better opportunities for educational programs on environmental science and conservation.
Persons don’t need a pass to walk down the dirt embankment road to the site but the city allows a limited number of persons to drive down for the launching of canoes, rafts and kayaks, picnics and walking the trails. The process involves filling out an application and getting the pass card to open the automatic gate.
One of the last additions was a 140-foot-long kayak ramp. Once in the river, users can paddle down to another ramp which is part of the Gateway Parcel of the Tuolumne River Regional Park (TRRP), or head back to the Ceres ramp.
In 2000 the city of Ceres spent $1.05 million for the 76-acre park site just east of the eastern side of River Oaks Golf Course. In 2006 the city devoted a small section of the park to a memorial for slain Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson who was gunned down in 2005.
The city has been slowly improving the Hatch Road park east of Mitchell Road. In 2015 the city ordered $2.3 million worth of projects to expand the park. The work involved removing one soccer field and adding two championship fields and three youth fields, doubling the size of the existing parking lot, adding a roundabout entrance, fencing off a well site, building a $132,750 arbor, installing landscaping and other improvements. With six fields, Ceres competes with Modesto, Ripon and Turlock for state cup tournaments.
On the east side of the upper terrace the city will be building a two million gallon water storage tank to receive treated river water from the regional surface water project being constructed near Fox Grove Fishing Access.
While Ceres River Bluff Regional Park is owned by the city of Ceres, it was intended to be incorporated into the Tuolumne River Regional Park design that stretches between Modesto and Ceres. The city is a member of the joint powers authority that governs the park.