San Joaquin River Conservancy to choose best point of access to new trail

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The hope is to connect it all to Fresno's Woodward Park and the Eaton Trail. (KFSN)

The undeveloped land along the San Joaquin River just north of Fresno attracts a few fishermen, like John Parr.

"(I catch) bass mostly, largemouth bass a few bluegill, crappie."

While the fishing is good, access isn't.

"Absolutely, getting down here is a problem, just from my location I've got about half a mile to get to my car from the first place its legal to park," said Parr.

The 600-acre property, pocked with ponds left over from gravel mining is actually owned by the state. It was purchased for $10-million 13 years ago and still waiting to be developed as part of the San Joaquin River Parkway.

The hope is to connect it all to Fresno's Woodward Park and the Eaton Trail. Melinda Marks is executive director of the San Joaquin River Conservancy, the state agency which controls the land.

"The Eaton Trail is well loved and it's six miles long right now. It goes from the Coke Hallowell Center to Highway 41, this would extend it from Highway 41 to where we are standing right now. So about two and a half mile extension to the Eaton Trail and I think that's a great opportunity for improving recreation in Fresno."

But figuring out how to let people get there has led to years of delays. An entrance off of old Highway 41 is planned, and three others have been proposed.

Sharon Weaver is Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Parkway.

"We are hoping they approve the EIR with alternative one which would provide access off of Riverview Drive and then a parking lot located right behind us here."

But Kristine Walter and several other residents of the Bluff neighborhood overlooking the river bottom said that option will lead to traffic problems. They and the city of Fresno want an access point off of Palm and Nees.

"It's really important that an access point be safe and convenient. And this location at Palm and Nees fills all of those opportunities, and because of the benefits this recreational corner provides it's going to be the fastest way to get this project done."

And river enthusiast Richard Sloan believes it will provide easier access to the river.

"I think it's fantastic, it's the only way you can get hand-carried watercraft close to the river-- also it provides access for horse trailers, school buses."

But the Palm and Nees route preferred by the city and the bluff residents calls for cutting through a park and creating a road along a steep embankment, at an estimated cost of $5-million.

The debate has been raging for years, but the Board of Directors of the San Joaquin River Conservancy are expected to pick a preferred access point and alternatives at their meeting on November 15th.

"So we are hopeful that when the conservancy board approves the EIR, we will be able to create a beautiful trail system, a beautiful access point, and allow more people to come out and enjoy the San Joaquin River," said Marks.

It is possible any decision will lead to lawsuits and more delays.

See more on this story on Action News at 6:00 p.m.

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