Construction launched Saturday on a long-awaited children's park and educational nature walk that will run from the Friant Dam Fish Hatchery and eventually connect with the San Joaquin River Trail.
Three dozen volunteers, most of them students from the Smittcamp Family Honors College at Fresno State, hauled wheelbarrows and buckets full of native grass seedlings and colorful plants and spread the blend by hand along the slopes of the future trail. These were the first steps toward fulfilling the vision of a local nonprofit group, Rivertreevolunteers.
The trail now under construction -- dubbed the Small Fry Trail by volunteers -- will be fitted with tunnels and concrete animals that kids can crawl on and through. Completion is expected in 2-1/2 to three years.
Mark Somma, chief financial officer of the nonprofit, said that some professional contractors will eventually be called in for the heavy work, but for now the groundwork will be done by volunteers.
Besides the park and trail, volunteers are turning a drainage ditch into a bioswale, a natural filter that will catch run-off from Friant Road.
The area where the students worked runs parallel to Friant Road and is next to the hatchery. CalFire crews donated their efforts last weekend by clearing the rough brush so the student volunteers could do their work.
The project is funded by $450,000 in grants awarded earlier this year. The majority of the money is in mitigation for state land that Caltrans took during the Friant Road widening project a few years ago. Somma worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to secure the money.
Richard Sloan, former ROTC instructor at Fresno State and president of Rivertreevolunteers, had high praise for Somma, a professor of political science at Fresno State.
"Somma catapulted our capabilities threefold with his grant proposals," Sloan said. "This enabled us to double the number of canoes, and tripled the volume of tools our volunteers rely on." The students also get a chance to learn how to use basic garden tools, some of which were new to them.
"Someday this trail will connect with the Woodward Park trail," said Jana Leiran, a wildlife interpreter for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But without the grants and volunteers, the project would not be able to proceed."
Students were optimistic the project will be completed. Alex Green, a 16-year-old from Clovis West, dumped loads from his wheelbarrow and looked ahead to the future.
"Maybe when the project is done, I can bring my own kids out here someday," he said.