Ducks and Canadian geese and other kinds of birds were enjoying the peaceful ponds of the lower terrace of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park last Wednesday when Brandy Meyer got her first look at the soon-to-be opened section near the river.
Meyer, a river enthusiast and the city’s representative on the Tuolumne River Regional Park’s Citizens Advisory Committee, was given a sneak peek tour by city Recreation Manager Matthew Lohr and city Parks and Maintenance Supervisor Kenneth Vaughn. The lower terrace of the park on Hatch Road – which was mostly formerly planted in walnut trees – has been closed for a while as it is being restored to its more native riparian habitat state. Lohr said the pedestrian public will be able to use the river’s side section of the park in about a month, after the planting of landscaping and other amenities are finished.
Eventually the city will allow a limited number of individuals to drive down the dirt embankment road to the lower terrace for the launching of canoes, rafts and kayaks, picnics and walking the trails. Lohr said that process will involve an application and pass to open the automatic gate.
Meyer was especially thrilled to see the kayak ramp, approved in 2020, finally installed. The City Council in 2018 approved the $124,848 140-foot precast concrete walkway from a North Carolina firm. Installation of the kayak ramp in December brought the cost to $371,690. Lohr doesn’t anticipate the ramp being available for public use until closer to summer. Once in the river, users can paddle down to another ramp which is part of the Gateway Parcel of the Tuolumne River Regional Park, or TRRP; or head back to the Ceres ramp.
The public had been allowed to access the lower terrace from dusk to dawn until it was closed for construction. 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 public will have improved access to the Tuolumne River, with improved riparian and floodplain habitat, and better opportunities for educational programs on environmental science and conservation.
Work yet to be finished is the installation of trail signage and finishing landscaping planting and irrigation.
Meyer said she wants to clarify whether the city park is considered part of the Tuolumne River Regional Park. She understood that it was years ago but heard former City Manager Toby Wells claim it was not.
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 of the park 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.
Vaughn lives near the park and checks on it frequently. He frequently has to run out homeless persons who try set up camp.
Lohr said once the city can recruit volunteers when pandemic restrictions are over, the city plans to set up a trails crews to help clean up and maintain the terrace.