Local non-profit highlights river conservancy, education, recreation
The San Joaquin River has been inhabited for thousands of years as early Native Americans settled in the Central Valley area. In the late 18th century, waves of explorers and settlers journeyed through the Valley, especially fueled by the Gold Rush in the mid 1800s.
One of California’s longest, the San Joaquin River meanders for 366 miles, starting in the Sierra Nevada and eventually feeding into the San Francisco Bay. Presently, the river acts as a critical source of irrigation for the heavy agricultural production the Central Valley boasts. In addition, it is an expansive wildlife corridor, important to the environment and economy alike.
However, in more recent years, areas along the river have been exploited by human use, both commercially and recreationally. Unfortunately, this has not always been for its benefit. The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation works to preserve the ecological and historically rich land.
Established as a 501(c) 3 non-profit in 1988, the mission statement explains the corporation’s purpose.
“The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust’s mission is to preserve and restore San Joaquin River lands having ecological, scenic or historic significance, to educate the public on the need for stewardship, to research issues affecting the river, and to promote educational, recreational and agricultural uses consistent with the protection of the river’s resources.”
The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust’s mission is to preserve and restore San Joaquin River lands having ecological, scenic or historic significance, to educate the public on the need for stewardship, to research issues affecting the river, and to promote educational, recreational and agricultural uses consistent with the protection of the river’s resources. — San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation mission statement.
The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation focuses on three main aspects: Conservation, education and recreation. Education Program Facilitator and river guide Juliana Quick explains the purpose of thes three facets of the program.
“We focus on three main areas,” Quick said. “Conservation: we make sure this land is well taken care of. Education: we educate students about where they live in relation to the San Joaquin River and about the Native Americans that came before. We also focus on all of the different wildlife that you can see out here. Recreation: an example is the River Tours we do on the weekends. Additionally, it’s a different experience to come out and be in nature.”
The parkway spans from Friant Dam to Skaggs Bridge Park. Through conservation, they work with willing landowners to protect land through land purchase and donations for public open space. They also restore streamside forests and important fish and wildlife habitats. Another way they work to conserve the land is by increasing public awareness of the San Joaquin River as a vital public resource and participating in public planning efforts on issues influencing the river.
Quick’s main role at the Parkway involves working with elementary age students on field trips and educating them about the river.
“I facilitate field trips for pre-K students up until sixth grade,” Quick said. “We have three site locations: Lost Lake, the San Joaquin River Parkway and Sycamore Island. Kids come out and we do fun activities all while teaching about the natural Parkway. The San Joaquin River Parkway is important because we have this beautiful natural resource here in the Central Valley and it’s important from young age that students, as well as adults, are introduced to this very important resource and the wildlife that calls it home.”
Lastly, over the years, the Parkway has constructed several trails, picnic areas and river access points, allowing families and members of the community to enjoy the river in a variety of ways. Trails and bike paths include include the The Lewis S. Eaton Trail which begins at Woodward Park and the Tom MacMichael, Sr. Trail at Jensen River Ranch. They also offer guided nature walks and guided canoe tours down the river.
Canoe/Kayak tours run weekly on Friday and Saturdays. Those who float down the river can expect a serene tour full of wildlife, and if you are lucky, you might even see a beaver or two. Ranging from $40-$55 depending on the length, it is a great way to escape Fresno’s summer heat.
Vincent Keenan serves as a volunteer for the Parkway by helping lead river tours. He explains why he believes awareness of the river is important.
“I love coming out here to help because it gives me some time out on the water and teaches people about the Parkway,” Keenan said. “My favorite part is getting access to the river. Tonight, we saw some animals that you usually never get to see, like the beaver, so getting that access to the conservancy is very cool. We have this natural resource here where the water feeds the crops which feeds the world. It’s truly beautiful and the recreation opportunities you can enjoy are bountiful. It’s fun to be a part of this cycle.”
Campus senior Alyssa Melillo appreciates the beauty the river offers and believes we do not take advantage of it.
“I really enjoyed my experience kayaking,” Melillo said. “The river was beautiful and it was awesome to enjoy all the scenery and nature with friends. It’s very important for us to appreciate it because there is so much the Central Valley has to offer us that many of us don’t realize.”
“It definitetly is a good thing that they have the whole conservancy thing working,” Brogan said. “But, I don’t think we even think about it because it’s in our backyard. Because we have such close proximity to it all the time, we don’t think it’s anything too special.”
“We live in a really fast-paced world so if you have the opportunity to experience nature, take it,” Quick said. “We do have this opportunity right in our own backyard to experience the beauty that we have. For your own personal wellness it’s important to take time for yourself. The river itself is so important providing drinking water, irrigation water and homes for so many species.”
If you want to get involved or explore the River Parkway, their website showcases ways to volunteer and visit. Coke Hallowell, founding member of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, previous President of the Board of Directors for 20 years, co-wrote a book, Take Me to the River. It is she writes about San Joaquin River restoration project, sharing stories and life along the river. Today she is the Chairman of the Board and will focus on outreach and development for the Trust.
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