Saturday, March 21, 2009

Good news from another local organization

Pact adds acreage to San Joaquin River parkway

Friday, Mar. 20, 2009

More than half a square mile of the San Joaquin River bottom will be added to the river parkway under a deal announced today.

The San Joaquin River Conservancy, a state agency that acquires land for the parkway, said it has bought 321 acres previously owned by the Gibson family and now mined for gravel by Vulcan Materials Co.

Melinda Marks, the conservancy�s executive officer, said her agency will continue renting the land to Vulcan until a lease and land-use permit expire in the next decade. After that, the land will be reclaimed with recreational trails and added to the parkway as funding permits. Some parts of the site already have been reclaimed for wetlands and waterfowl habitat.

�The advantage of acquiring the property now is the conservancy will be involved in the reclamation,� Marks said.

The land is between Old Friant Road and the river west of the Copper River Country Club. The $6.4 million purchase was made using funds from Proposition 40, a $2.6 billion bond issue approved by California voters in 2002.

Dave Koehler, executive director of the non-profit San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, called the purchase �a key acquisition� and said it would help achieve a long-term parkway goal of linking together a continuous expanse of protected land from Friant Dam to Highway 99.

�In the long run, the counties of Fresno and Madera get to have a tremendous asset in their back yards,� Koehler said.

The new property is adjacent to the parkway�s signature Lewis S. Eaton trail. Marks said long-term plans call for the trail to be extended into it. Horseback-riding trails and other amenities are also being considered.

For now, the property remains closed to public access while gravel extraction continues. Rent that the conservancy receives from Vulcan is earmarked for other parkway programs.

Marks estimated that the property could be opened to the public as soon as six to seven years from now, depending on funding availability. Gibson family members include Earl and Beverly Knobloch and the late Joyce Gibson. Part of the proceeds go to California State University, Fresno, which received a $2 million bequest from Joyce Gibson last year. The money is designated for the university�s equine program and its Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market, the conservancy said.

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