Two trail construction projects along Fresno County's major rivers will open up opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts.
The first is the creation of North Riverside Park along the Lower Kings River outside Piedra, which features a 1 1/2-mile hiking trail linking the popular fishing area below the Army Corps of Engineers Bridge to nearby Choinumni Park.
The second is a 10-mile segment of the San Joaquin River Trail between Kerckhoff Reservoir and Redinger Lake, a key addition to the long-envisioned 73-mile corridor from the central San Joaquin Valley to the eastern Sierra.
North Riverside Park will appeal to hikers as well as fishermen and boaters seeking better river access, while the new San Joaquin River Trail segment will be enjoyed by those user groups in addition to horseback riders and mountain bikers.
"This is big," said Steve Haze, president of the San Joaquin River Trail Council. "I've been told by the Forest Service that this is the biggest new trail construction in this region in decades."
The Lower Kings near the Army Corps of Engineers Bridge has long been a popular fishing spot, especially since 2006 when the Department of Fish and Game began stocking trophy-sized trout. But the site has lacked a parking lot and restrooms and is typically strewn with litter.
North Riverside Park should help fix all that.
Funded by a $285,000 grant from the State Resource Agency, the 38-acre linear park will feature an 11-stall parking lot, permanent restrooms, picnic areas and information kiosks. The parking lot, restrooms and first half-mile of trail will comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In addition, two acres of invasive plants have been removed and will be replaced by native shrubs and trees to complement the oaks and sycamores growing along the river.
The parking lot has been staked and graded, and later this week crews will stake out the hiking trail, which will be 5 feet wide and composed of decomposed granite. (Parts of the trail already exist but are not maintained and are overgrown; several user-created paths also crisscross the area.) Three ADA-compliant access trails leading to the river also will be added.
The facilities are sorely needed because fishing pressure on the Lower Kings, which is already heavy, will be even greater once trout stocking in the San Joaquin is halted after the introduction of salmon.
Jim Van Haun, executive director of the Kings River Conservancy, said construction of North Riverside Park should be completed by early December with a formal grand opening planned for next spring.
"Once we get it done this is going to be a very neat trail," Van Haun said. "From mid-November to mid-March, we always have bald eagles nesting in here. It's just an amazing stretch of river."
The same could be said for the San Joaquin above Kerckhoff Reservoir in eastern Fresno County, though few ever see it due to remoteness and lack of access.
The new 10-mile segment of the San Joaquin River Trail will be funded by a $440,000 grant from the California Transportation Commission. Construction could start this winter and take two to three years to complete, Haze said.
Two short trail connectors are also planned. One, linking the Chawanakee Learning Center in the Jose Basin area to Italian Bar Bridge at Redinger Lake, is under construction.
The project has been on hiatus because it has taken several years to secure funding, Haze said. It is largely a volunteer effort.
While the new segment is being built, the next challenge will be convincing landowners near Patterson Bend to sell property easements so the trail can link to the San Joaquin River Gorge near Auberry.
"We have about 95% of the right of way and we have a source of funding to purchase 20 acres, which is all we need," Haze said.
The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559)441-6218.