Saturday, March 14, 2014 A day many residents of the Mountain Area have been waiting to arrive for nearly 20 years a day that hopes and promises were fulfilled a day ushering in optimism and excitement for nature lovers, health enthusiasts, horse lovers, community organizations, and family members young and old the day the gate was officially opened to the 241-acre Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park on Highway 49.
The gate opened at 7 a.m. but it was around 9 a.m. when traffic entering the park began to pick-up, according to Ken Croker, a board member with the Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Park, the non-profit group responsible for the day-to-day operation of the park under a dollar a year lease from Madera County.
Croker, and other members of the group, greeted guests as they arrived at the park, pointing out features to the park on a map at the edge of the parking lot.
Croker estimated more than 150 came to see the park on opening day.
"A husband and wife, two children, and the children's grandparents brought a big picnic lunch with them to enjoy in the park," Croker said. "That's what this park is all about."
Eddie and Judi Ellis of Oakhurst and their friend Quinn Tran walked a good portion of the park under a blue sky and a temperature of about 65 degrees.
"It's wonderful," Judi Ellis said of the park. "It's very obvious all the work that has gone into this park. We can't wait to bring our three dogs out here."
John and Jodi Wood of Oakhurst volunteered more than 40 hours each on community work crews to help clean-up the property, removing old barbed-wire fencing and other debris.
The park features more than six miles of walking, hiking and equestrian trails, picnic tables and barbecues, three handicap accessible restrooms, and a historic barn that will be available for events.
Prior to it's transformation, the property was the site of Ahwahnee Tavern, built in the late 1880s, a tuberculosis sanitarium which operated through 1969, and a boy's juvenile deliquent facility which closed in 1986.
Donations of artifacts about the property such as historic newspaper articles or photographs are being sought to be displayed in the park's interpretive center.
The park is open 7 a.m. - 7 p.m., seven days a week.
Details: Fern Facchino, (559) 760-4236, ahwahneepark.org.