A grand opening ceremony is set for 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 to officially open the lower terrace of Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.
The development of the park between Hatch Road and the Tuolumne River has been slow going since 2000 when the city of Ceres spent $1.05 million for the 76-acre site. Most of the southern section of the park has been developed with soccer fields, concession stand and parking lots. With six fields, Ceres competes with Modesto, Ripon and Turlock for state cup tournaments.
The Ceres park is broken into two geographically different sections. The upper terrace, which is level to Hatch Road, is the recreational portion of the park. The lower terrace near the Tuolumne River and east of the River Oaks Golf Course, is restored to its natural river habitat from its former use as a walnut orchard. Now in its native riparian habitat, the section includes a pond fed by an inlet of the river and is inhabited by ducks and Canada geese and other kinds of birds. The lower terrace also features landscaping and picnic tables.
With the opening of the lower terrace of the park, the public will have improved access to the river, with improved riparian and floodplain habitat, and 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.
A 140-foot kayak ramp, ordered in 2020, is also part of the amenities. 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.)
The lower terrace was briefly open to the public in early 2021 but was closed because the city had to replace vegetation destroyed by a wild fire. The city also needed more time to install irrigation lines and trail signage.
In 2018 the city contracted with Hanford Applied Restoration & Conservation to perform $1.7 million worth of work to restore 17 acres of the former walnut orchard to its natural river state with the planting of willows, sycamore, cottonwood and London plane trees.
On the east side of the upper terrace of the park the city is 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.