San Joaquin River Parkway Grows (CA)

FRESNO, CA, 11/12/03- The Trust for Public Land, the San Joaquin River Conservancy, and the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust announce the Conservancy’s purchase and permanent protection of 528 acres at the heart of the 22-mile long San Joaquin River Parkway. The Spano River Ranch, wedged between the river and the northernmost growth of Fresno at Highway 41, is directly in the path of development. TPL and the Parkway Trust worked with the landowner, the Spano family, who was looking for an alternative to developing their former farmland that would benefit the community.

“My father originally purchased the ranch in 1960,” says Stan Spano. “There was a lot of public desire not to subdivide the land, and once I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to develop it in my lifetime, my mother and I started to think that it really would be nice if the ranch was preserved to carry on the memory of my father.”

“We were very lucky to work with the Spano family who genuinely wanted to pass on this open space legacy to future generations,” said Nelson Mathews, Director, Western Rivers Program for the Trust for Public Land. “Many partners worked hard to accomplish this complex acquisition.”

“We are very grateful to all of our partners for their support and funding of this land protection project,” said Reed Holderman, Executive Director, the Trust for Public Land-California. State funding for the purchase came from funds earmarked by former Governor Davis, voter-approved Proposition 13, Water Bond funds, Caltrans’ Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program and through the federal Transportation Efficiency Enhancement Act.

Major funding was also provided by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s Conserving California Landscapes Initiative (CCLI), a program which seeks to conserve open space, farmland, and critical natural areas in three focus regions of California: the Central Coast, Central Valley, and the Sierra Nevada. “The Packard Foundation provided key funding that came at a critical time in the project. We are very fortunate to have their support for the Parkway,” said Dave Koehler, Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust. The Packard Foundation CCLI program is managed by Resources Law Group, LLP, of Sacramento.

Efforts for preserving the river corridor began in the 1980s, when the first of a series of large subdivisions was proposed for development along the San Joaquin. Residents, concerned that they would lose the open spaces along the river entirely, came together envisioning a river parkway. Stretching for 22 miles along the river from Millerton State Recreation Area to State Highway 99, the San Joaquin River Parkway, when complete, will provide residents much-desired open space and protect fast-disappearing natural habitat.

“The vision for the Parkway came from the community, including owners of land along the river,” says Coke Hallowell, president of the River Parkway Trust. “It’s an ambitious undertaking that has required a great commitment from the community. We’ve made great progress since those early days. Spano River Ranch is the latest in a series of successes.”

The Spano acquisition is one of several made possible by voters’ approval of bond funds. Since Proposition 12, the Parks Bond, and Proposition 13, the Water Bond, were approved in 2000, the Conservancy has acquired 1,749 acres for the developing Parkway. These lands will provide for the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat, access by the public for fishing, boating, and other recreation, and education about natural and cultural resources.

“It is exciting to see the momentum gathering as the Parkway acquires land and plans public access and recreation projects,” says Brian Calhoun, Conservancy Chair and Fresno City Council Member. “Soon the public will be enjoying more places like Wildwood Native Park and the popular Lewis S. Eaton Trail.”

In 1991, the Trust for Public Land formed a joint venture partnership with the Parkway Trust and the groups together facilitated the purchase of the 271-acre Rank Island for addition to the parkway. From the mid-1990s, the parkway blossomed: TPL assisted with the purchase of 157-acre Jenson River Ranch to connect existing Woodward City Park to the river, and the 22-acre Wildwood Park. These lands are now owned and managed by the state Department of Fish and Game and the Conservancy.

The Parkway has come to life through the hard work of the community, the River Parkway Trust, TPL, the San Joaquin River Conservancy and its member agencies, and the unwavering support of local elected officials including past and present State Senators Jim Costa, Charles Poochigian, and Dean Florez, and Assemblymembers Sarah Reyes and Mike Briggs.

The San Joaquin River Conservancy, the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, and The Trust for Public Land will host a dedication event on Saturday, November 15, 2003, at 10:30am for the Spano River Ranch. The dedication event will include music by Sugar Pine, followed by refreshments, guided nature walks, and canoeing. Spano River Ranch will be open for the public to explore on Saturday until 2:00 pm. The event is free. The ranch gate to the property is accessed from Audubon Drive in Fresno, at Del Mar Ave. and Riverview Drive.

The San Joaquin River Conservancy was created by the state Legislature to implement the San Joaquin River Parkway, a 22-mile regional greenspace and wildlife corridor in the river-bottom extending from Friant Dam to Highway 99, with an interconnected trail system and recreational and educational features. The Conservancy’s mission is to acquire approximately 5900 acres from willing sellers at fair market value, and to operate and manage those lands for public enjoyment consistent with protection of natural resources.

Formed in 1988, The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust’s mission is to preserve and restore San Joaquin River lands having ecological, scenic or historic significance, to educate the public on the need for stewardship, to research issues affecting the river, and to promote educational, recreational and agricultural uses consistent with the protection of the river’s resources. For more information find the River Parkway Trust on-line at

TPL is a national charitable land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas and natural, historic, and cultural resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more an 1.4 million acres nationwide. TPL recently researched and published The State of California Rivers, the first-ever report assessing the health of all 80 major rivers in California.