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Council hears about river parks progress
Tuolumne River Regional Park a work in progress
The Tuolumne River Regional Park is governed through a joint powers authority involving the county and the cities of Ceres and Modesto. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Work is plodding along on developing the Tuolumne River Regional Park, of which the city of Ceres is a member of the Joint Powers Authority overseeing it. Nathan Houx, the city of Modesto's Parks Planning and Development manager and the JPA's administrator, gave an update to the Ceres City Council last week.

Houx said the goal is to build the park, which extends along seven river miles and includes over 500 acres of park land, into a destination facility that can generate revenue and tourism while providing recreational activities.

"One of the key things we need to look at is revenue generating opportunities so we're looking at creating some new fees so different areas we're developing," said Houx.

To maintain the park in a fiscally responsible manner, Houx said the park has generated many volunteers to help out. Volunteers have assisted in Operation 9-29-99 to monthly reclaim, rehabilitate, and restore the area along the Tuolumne River in Modesto from the Ninth Street Bridge to Highway 99 by removing trash, tires, shopping carts, and abandoned camps in order to return this blighted area to a public space and riparian river habitat. Cleanup efforts are also coordinated by the Tuolumne River Trust with the Hispanic Youth Leadership groups at high schools turning out twice a year to pick up trash.

The park starts at Mitchell Road to past Carpenter Road and includes over 500 acres. It is governed by a JPA consisting of Stanislaus County and the cities of Ceres and Modesto.

Houx said grant funding is assisting with developing aspects of the park. In the past few years the park has snagged $6.5 million in grants and another $500,000 that may soon be awarded.

Houx updated the council on TRRP's $3 million Gateway Project which will be the hub of the park. It is located on the north side of the river between Dry Creek and Highway 99. The work has included habitat restoration and trail building as well as building an outdoor "classroom." Phase 2 construction of trails and a backwater channel has been delayed because of the swollen river.

"Construction has been way long - it should have been done a long time ago but the river does not cooperate with us very well," said Houx.

An elevated river boardwalk and overlook will be constructed as part of the Gateway parcel to allow the public to get near the river without damaging the habitat. That project is being funded by a grant of over $800,000, said Houx.

"We're working on getting that designed and put out to bid next year."

One of the key projects toward restoration is the removal of the remnants of Dennett Dam erected in 1933 downstream of the Ninth Street Bridge to create what was to be Lake Modesto. The Tuolumne River Trust is partnering to design plans to remove the plan and funding all permits. The project is fully funded by grants and plans are to have the dam this summer.

The low bid was $1 million which was considerably less than the $2.4 million bid obtained last summer.

Removing the dam, Houx said, is "very important to encourage any boating activities" and could help with Ceres' plans to have a boat launch at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park. It would also remove an impediment to salmon migration. Right now salmon have a hard time going upstream to spawn, he noted. With the dam out of the way the fish can basically go all the way up to La Grange Dam without any barriers.

A $780,000 grant is going toward building a $805,000 boat launching facility off Neece Drive by John Thurman Field and Dryden Golf Course. The project has yet to be designed and could be years in the making.

The Stanislaus Youth Soccer League is looking to build six soccer fields and small parking lot in the park, one of which is at the county's Bellenita Park west of Highway 99. TRRP received a million-dollar grant for it.

"That's coming in a year or so," Houx told the Ceres City Council.

Houx gave an update on the trimming and sometimes removal of trees in the park south of the Modesto Airport runway.

"We've completed phases one and two of the tree trimming next to the airport. This is necessary due to the FAA regulations so we broke it up into five phases since we can't afford to do it all in one year."

More tree trimming will occur this fall.

"We've got some pretty good progress and the FAA is pretty happy with the progress we've made."

To mitigate the loss of trees, the JPA must plant 1,000 replacement trees in other areas of the park.

Other park needs include the renovation of Mancini Park on Ceres' side of the river, as well as Bellenita Park on the north side. The American Legion Hall needs a lot of repairs and the parking lots at some facilities need to be resurfaced.

Houx said a more long-term goal of the JPA is to improve Legion Park for outdoor educational tours and extend the trail from the Gateway Parcel over to the future boat launch near Dryden; and to connect trails from the Gateway over Dry Creek via a pedestrian bridge to the Legion Park area near Gallo Winery.