A small crowd gathered Friday morning on the bluff overlooking the serene plane next to the Tuolumne River to formally mark the opening of the lower terrace of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.
The public can now use the park during daylight hours for walks, hikes, bird watching, picnicking and the launching kayaks into the river. Since the lower terrace only has five parking spaces, one of which is for handicapped use, many users will probably end up walking the road leading down the slope to access the park.
The event signaled the end of the development of the park, an effort that began in 2000 when the city’s then Director of Parks and Recreation Doug Lemcke spearheaded the city of Ceres to buy the 76-acre park site east of River Oaks Golf Course for $1.05 million.
A bluff splits the park in half with the 38 acres at grade level to Hatch Road which now bears soccer fields, parking lots and concession stand; and the 38-acre “lower terrace” alongside the Tuolumne River.
City Manager Alex Terrazas said that he was amazed when he first saw the park after he was hired in 2021 and sees it “as a bit of an oasis in the middle of our city for folks … to come and enjoy with ponds and walking trails and just a space to enjoy some quiet – if that’s what you’re looking for as well.”
Mayor Javier Lopez said the park is a beautiful place.
“This is a great opportunity for us to embrace what we have and perfect it after all the issues that we had prior to this opening,” said Mayor Lopez.
Vice Mayor Bret Silveira made some brief remarks, singling out Lou Toste for his 40-year commitment to Ceres Youth Soccer which has been instrumental in established the upper terrace for soccer use.
“We’ve got so much momentum in Ceres right now with growth and development and things like this park opening and the future opening of Guillermo Ochoa Park,” said Silveira. “There’s so much momentum right now for people to come and raise their families in Ceres.”
A ribbon cutting photo op occurred after local officials dispatched representatives with certificates of commendation.
For the past two decades the city slowly converted the use of the lower terrace as a walnut orchard back to its native state where the public could stroll among native plants and trees and wildlife.
In 2006 the city devoted a small section of the park to a memorial for slain Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson.
Nobody was happier than Brandy Meyer, who represents the city of Ceres on the Tuolumne River Regional Park Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
”The river has a special place in my heart,” said Meyer. “I’ve been on that committee for over 10 years, I’ve watched this park develop for many of those years, although it’s not technically part of that committee right now.”
She said as a troop leader with her husband she has led scout cleaning projects and lay the bark for the Howard Stevenson Memorial near the river’s edge.
“I am extremely, extremely happy to be here today and to see all the faces and support,” said Meyer.
“I know a lot of people were complaining, ‘when’s it gonna open? When’s it gonna open?’ And now it’s open and we can all enjoy it.”
A number of small Cessnas flew overhead to approach the nearby Modesto Airport as officials gathered to cut the ribbon and gaze out over the area. A short time a skein of Canada geese came flying in to land on the water of the lagoon.
The restoration work included formation of a wetlands lagoon and the planting of native vegetative species like valley oak and cottonwood trees.
Now a sanctuary for herons and egrets, the local Audobon Society occasionally has used the lower terrace for bird watching.