"Come walk with us," is the invitation on the Oakhurst River Parkway brochure. The parkway is a three-plus-mile trail that winds through the heart of Oakhurst along the Fresno River and the banks of Oak and China creeks.
Now, with the addition of sidewalks along Crane Valley Road (426), that walk can be extended to the downtown area of Oakhurst.
The six individuals who first envisioned the trail in 1992 wanted to provide a place for community members and visitors to enjoy nature; they were also concerned about river restoration. The six were Sandy Brinley, Gene Gibson, George Smith, Noreen McDonald, Don Hansen, and Bob Linley.
One of the initial jobs for the group was the formation of a foundation to establish the Oakhurst River Parkway as a non-profit entity so that grant monies could be applied for, accepted, and monitored, according to Sandy Brinley, chairperson of the river parkway committee. Since that non-profit status was established, about $483,000 in grants has been received and disbursed.
"I'll make a note to come back and clear these water bars," said Brinley, on a recent walk along a portion of the parkway near Oakhurst Elementary School and the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst. Trail soil had built up on the backside of the wooden bars, which are one of the methods used to control soil erosion by slowing down the flow of water on sloping portions of the trail.
The trail includes four pedestrian bridges and on this particular day, there is fresh evidence of beaver activity. In past years, parkway volunteers have placed wire barriers around trees to protect them from the beavers. The trail is a designated area for viewing beavers and butterflies. A parkway brochure, available at the Yosemite Sierra Visitor's Bureau, provides trail users with a checklist of flora and fauna that could be seen along the trail.
A black-headed phoebe, great blue heron, beaver, coyote, sunfish, western toad, alligator lizard, western pond turtle, water boatman, golden oak tree, valley oak tree, baby blue eyes, paintbrush, or Sierra shooting star are a sampling of what might be seen on any given day.
The parkway may be accessed from many points including the Oakhurst Branch of the Madera County Library where there is parking available. It also has two entrances from the Oakhurst Community Park, and passes the Oakhurst Center State Center Community College, and then approaches Crane Valley Road (426) where a number of people have placed memorials to deceased pets.
The Fresno River portion of the Parkway can also be accessed from the Royal Oaks Subdivision. Oakhurst Elementary School, Fresno Flats Historical Park with parking off School Road (427), and Yosemite High School provide access to the Oak Creek part of the trail. Access to the China Creek part of the trail is at Teddy Bear Meditation Park on Crane Valley Road (426) or east of Road 425B on Crane Valley Road (426). Granite markers indicate many of the entrances.
The oak trees are some of the 600 trees planted and nurtured by volunteers from acorns gathered a bit further down the path. In this area, a lot of work has been done to control erosion on the riverbank.
"A hydrologist came in to tell us how to make a shelf to control the erosion," Brinley said. "The oak trees were grown from native oaks so the trees would be genetically correct for the area. Volunteers placed watering tubes and shade cloth to protect the young trees and we watered them for two years until they were established."
A number of agencies have been involved in the creation of the parkway including Madera County, U.S. Forest Service, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Forestry, California Department of Water Resources, and the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce. In the early stages of the development of the parkway, conversations and planning occurred amongst these agencies for emergency preparedness in the mountains as well.
"The river is a trail for wildlife," Brinley explained. The parkway committee continues to work with agencies to make the parkway safe and to also protect the wildlife. In one area of dense underbrush growth, the committee wanted to do some clearing but Fish and Wildlife personnel warned them that this same brushy area protects the fish living there and helps keep the water cool for them.
A number of park benches and trashcans are placed along the parkway and volunteers as well as local businesses including Yosemite Bank, Chase Bank and Palm Memorial Sierra Chapel, McGoldrick and McGoldrick Attorneys at Law, Sierra Telephone, the Sierra Star, and Century 21 Ditton Realty regularly empty these trashcans.
The reality is that not only parkway visitors are using the trashcans but also individuals are placing their household trash in these cans rather than having trash pickup or taking their own trash to the dump. This unauthorized use has created health and excessive litter issues.
Parkway enhancement projects in the past have included the removal of an excess of 40 tons of trash and debris from the trail and adjacent waterways, extension of culverts and drainage systems, construction of wood and rock retaining walls in the flood plain, removal of a 40 x 100-foot concrete wall, work with school science teachers and custodians to compost vegetation debris, removal of overgrown brush which had caused flooding problems in winter and fire hazards in summer. Other construction projects on adjacent properties often cause situations where portions of the trail need to be reconstructed, Brinley said.
A river walk with businesses focusing patrons and clients on the waterways rather than the street is the vision Brinley and those original and current committee members have for the future of the parkway.
A number of grants have provided start up money and also dollars for maintenance of the parkway but volunteers are the real soul of the project. Sierra-Oakhurst Kiwanis Club, Heartland Opportunity Center, Soroptimists International of the Sierras, Central Sierra Watershed Committee, Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club, and local 4-H, Boy Scout and garden clubs have committed time and money to the project.
Individuals, businesses, and organizations who would like to adopt a portion of the parkway or who would just like to volunteer for a specific project or workday can find information at orptrail.org, or by Googling Oakhurst Riverway Parkway and click on sierranevadageotourism.org/content/oakhurst-river-parkway.
Brinley can be contacted at email@example.com. Other parkway committee members are Gene Krieghoff, Stan Smith, Jeannie Habben and Brittany Dyer.
The next workdays will be calendared for the spring, according to Brinley.