Written by The Business Journal Staff
“Parties for the Parkway is a very important fundraising tool for implementing the parkway vision and turning that vision into a reality,” River Parkway and Conservation Trust Executive Director Sharon Weaver said.
Over the years, the parties have allowed the trust to secure conservation of properties along a 22-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River, extending from Friant Dam to Highway 99 and spanning lands in both Fresno and Madera counties. Since its founding in 1988, more than 20,000 homes, several shopping centers, a hotel and four golf courses have been proposed for sites along the river that are now protected.
Some of the organization’s major triumphs include protecting Bell Ranch, a 358-acre property, and the Spano River Ranch property, both of which were originally slated for large developments.
The site of the trust’s current barn-style office along Old Friant Road would have also looked much different without conservation efforts, as Vulcan Materials Company, which owned the land, originally intended to bulldoze the dilapidated historic Riverview Ranch house in favor of mining the site for gravel. Instead, Vulcan opted to donate the house and 20 acres of open space to the River Parkway Trust. Individuals, foundations and local business contributed $3.5 million — much of which was raised through Parties for the Parkway — to restore the house and create an educational center.
Today, the Riverview Ranch site hosts nearly 10,000 students from surrounding schools for field trips each year, and many people visit the property as they walk and bike along the connected trails or attend private and public events hosted at the site.
Finn Telles, the nonprofit’s director of business development, said there are countless benefits to preserving lands like the Riverview Ranch site. The land provides habitat for wildlife, open space for recreation, and opportunities to educate future generations about the river, its environment and the land’s history.
Looking ahead, Telles said, the River Parkway and Conservation Trust plans to continue preserving lands along the river for these reasons.
“That might include working with local landowners to do conservation easements or title purchases for land to be conserved into perpetuity so future generations can enjoy it,” Telles said. “We also plan to open more properties to the public along the San Joaquin River, and that involves working with the state, the cities and the counties of Fresno and Madera, as well as continuing our own effort as a nonprofit to open parks.”
In addition to preserving lands, the organization also plans to continue restoring lands to benefit native wildlife.
“Right now we’re working on a project that is planting 16,000 trees and plants along the river, and you can imagine that doesn’t happen overnight, so we are continuing that this year, and there will be more projects like that in the foreseeable future,” Telles said. “We just finished working on a project at Jensen River Ranch, below Woodward Park, which was two phases of habitat restoration and tree planting and we’re actually beginning a third phase to help build wildlife habitat as well as extend the trail.”
Extending hiking trails is also on the agenda.
“The next big project is extending the Luis S. Eaton Trail, which is the trail that connects here to Woodward Park and covers about a three-mile stretch. Someday we would like to see it be close to 22 miles, and for now, we’re connecting the pieces where we can,” Telles said. “There is a great opportunity in Madera to develop the San Joaquin River Parkway. There is a site called Sycamore Island that we operate as a nonprofit and charge a fee to get in. It is very large acreage, about 400 acres, and it’s gotten to be a very popular place, and in the future there could be connections from the Sycamore Island site all the way to Woodward Park via a common trail. This is something I think the community should get behind and be very excited about.”
The parties are one way community members and businesses can show their support for these projects.
“I like to look at a Party for the Parkway as just friends getting together to throw a unique party and learn about something, eat good food, and support a good cause,” Telles said.
Parties this year include a champagne brunch at the Coke Hallowell Center, a John Muir trail tour, a science themed dinner party at Fresno State, a morning at the Chaffee Zoo, and a canoe trip along the San Joaquin River.
There are a total of 45 parties total this year, and individuals and businesses can reserve tickets for them at a kickoff party March 9 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building.
The kickoff starts at 5:30 p.m. Reservations can also be made online or via phone after the party. For more information, visit www.riverparkway.org