River West project near Woodpark delayed

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The project has been delayed over arguments about how the public can get to the area. (KFSN)

The San Joaquin River and the ponds north of Woodward Park are supposed to be part of an outdoor recreation area called River West.

The project has been delayed over arguments about how the public can get to the area.

Six hundred acres of public land stretching from Highway 41 west to Palm Avenue, it is called River West, and it is part of the San Joaquin River Parkway, but only a few folks seem to know how to get to it. Melinda Marks, Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Conservancy says there are big plans to let people enjoy this land.

"And opportunities to walk out to the river for fishing and nature observation," said Marks.

The state of California paid 10 million dollars for this property 13 years ago to create an extension of the Eaton Trail Network from Woodward Park. But there have been years of delays, primarily over where the public would be allowed access.

The only certain point would be off of old Highway 41 at Perrin Avenue. It requires driving into Madera County on Highway 41, an 11 mile round trip from Fresno. There are also three additional, alternative entrances under consideration. For Sharon Weaver, Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and conservation trust, this short section of Riverview Drive, Alternate Route One, which goes directly to the river bottom land is the way to go.

"We think it is the most logical place to provide access, because its access on a public road that goes to public land, it's a connector street, called Riverview Drive, but there are some neighbors that don't want to see access on that street," Weaver said.

Those neighbors have banded together in a group called the San Joaquin River Access Coalition. Kristine Walters and Pete Weber are part of the coalition. They fear Alternative One will impact traffic in their neighborhood on the bluffs overlooking the river. Especially on Audobon Drive.

"Audobon would be then impacted even further, with having that as a major access point and going through a neighborhood that has blind intersections just creates more of a safety issue that we are concerned about," Walter explained.

But Weaver says the traffic problems can be eased with a stoplight. And Riverview Drive, which was built to lead to a subdivision that was never built, would provide a short, direct route to a potential parking area and trails. But bluffs' residents have a somewhat more complicated plan. Called Alternative Five-B.

Peter Weber said, "This location at Palm and Nees is good not only because it is consistent with the city's general plan, but also because it is by far the alternative that offers the best access for the citizens of Fresno."

Weaver disagrees.

"They would basically be building a road through the middle of that park, disrupting that green space then they would bring the road down that steep bluff in that area and it would cost about five million dollars, that's what the engineers' estimate says right now."

But Weaver does agree an entrance at Palm and Nees is a good idea, in fact, there is one called Alternative Five, and it would use an old gravel hauling road just 100 feet away from the proposed five million dollar road the bluff residents want, and it goes to the same place. But it is on private property and not currently for sale. She sees Alternative Five-B on city-owned property as a phony alternative.

"I don't really believe it will be implemented and that's my concern about it," Weaver said.

But it is the only alternative the City of Fresno will support. In a letter to the conservancy, City Manager Wilma Quan Shechter stated the city will "vehemently oppose Alternative One" which is Riverview Drive.
Raising questions about the influence of the bluffs' homeowners on the city administration.

Walter said, "Well, first of all, it's pretty preposterous that there's anyone that has that kind of influence, in the city."

The Board of Directors of the San Joaquin River Conservancy are scheduled to vote on where they want access at their meeting on November 15th.

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