Supervisors approve $2.4 million land deal

Some county officials say nearly 1,000 acres near Minarets High School could one day be an outdoor sporting destination unlike anything in Central California.

At a total price of $2.39 million, barring future appraisals, the land owned by Margaret Jamison will cost the county $311,700, with the remainder covered by state and federal grants.

The property, more than triple the size of Fresno’s Woodward Park, is located on the east side of Highway 41 across from Black Hawk Lodge, and stretches to the northern boundary of Minarets High School. It was unanimously approved for purchase by the Madera County Board of Supervisors Nov. 3.

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler said the primary goal is to shape the land into a moneymaker; one that could host everything from extreme running obstacle courses to off-highway vehicles, equestrian and hiking trails, and campgrounds.

“We’re talking about more tourists, more people in our restaurants, more people in our hotels,” Wheeler said. “The people who do this kind of stuff have money. It’s going to be a big boost for Madera County.”

Some Mountain Area residents, particularly those familiar with the 400-acre Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park, disagreed.

“I’m a little confused why they want to spend this money,” said John Pero, who heads the Oakhurst/Coarsegold chapter of the Tea Party. “They want to spend money on homeless issues, then raise the sales tax to pay for firefighters. They seem to find all this money for other projects and put firefighting or other things on the backburner.”

Eric Fleming, the county’s Chief Administrative Officer, said the new park is meant to differ from Ahwahnee Hills in both scope and design.

“We attempted to look at Ahwahnee Hills for things like off-highway vehicles and outdoor recreation that we’re considering this new site for,” Fleming said, “but (Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park) was against it. The neighbors were against it. So the types of things we’re considering on this new land are very different, geared more for outdoor sports.”

Fern Facchino, chairperson for Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park, said she didn’t object to the potential for the new site.

“I wouldn’t have any objection to it because there’s a need for it, and there’s a lot of people who want something like that,” Facchino said of the park’s potential use for more “extreme” outdoor events. “The whole idea for Ahwahnee Hills was to be a nature-based park. However, I do hope there’s more public input as this goes on.”

Fleming said plans are far in their infancy, and as concepts such as trail designs or environmental studies develop, they’ll be brought to the board for public discussion and potential approval.

He added the county envisions the park operating through grants, and partnerships with private companies, to help lower ongoing costs or even raise money.

“In a perfect world, we’re going to use grants to cover all the acquisition costs, development costs, ongoing maintenance costs, things like that,” Fleming said. “But I think we’ll also rely on revenue generated through entry fees, event fees, and other factors to cover the remaining difference.”

Bill Hayter, the county’s grant writer, said construction grants on certain parts of the park could be submitted by Sept. of 2017, at best, following environmental studies and plans for trail or park design.

Construction would then come in phases for around three to five years, Hayter said.

An environmental study on Ahwahnee Hills was completed in 2005 and the park welcomed its first visitors around five years later, Facchino said, though she added initial grants began around 2000.

If grants fall through, Maria Miranda, a senior administrative analyst with county administration, said the county will completely back out of the purchase.