McEwen: Fresno trails to get push in 2013

December 19, 2012 

The coming year holds promise for everyone who believes that the greening of Fresno will boost both our economy and quality of life.

Whether these dreams become reality hinges on money. Not that money isn't available but, as is often the case with government, it's a matter of the money being in the right pot.

People long have talked about turning canal banks into trails without the idea bearing fruit.

But now Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is looking at canal bank trails to promote good health and downtown revitalization. Under one scenario, the city would team with Fresno Irrigation District on a pilot trail along a canal running through the Tower District to downtown.

In addition, the San Joaquin Conservancy next month will begin preparing the Environmental Impact Report for the long-awaited extension of the Lewis S. Eaton trail. The trail addition through the 1,200-acre River West property would link Woodward Park to Spano Park near Palm and Nees avenues.

The good news is that the San Joaquin Conservancy, a state agency governed by a regional board, has about $30 million for capital projects, habitat restoration and land acquisition. The bad news? The conservancy doesn't pay for maintenance and operations, and the city of Fresno, a partner in the trail, can't afford to maintain the trail.

Another possibility for trail maintenance dollars is the Measure C sales tax. Voters, however, approved a spending plan that directed funding solely to building trails. So six years after the sales-tax extension, the fund has accumulated millions of dollars that aren't being used because Fresno and Clovis don't have the wherewithal to service new trails.

Fortunately, negotiations are under way to tweak the Measure C spending plan.

"I am going to look very hard at finding a solution to this," says Mark Keppler, who represents trail advocates on the Measure C steering committee. "I am very hopeful that Mayor Swearengin is going to help us get this done while maintaining fidelity to the voters who passed Measure C."

Melinda Marks, executive officer of the conservancy, hopes Measure C can be tapped for maintenance of the Eaton extension. She says the addition will be a walking, running and cycling trail that attracts many users for its beauty and the fact that it will connect to residences and shopping.

As the conservancy conducts the EIR on the extension, residents should voice their suggestions on access points and parking. These are sure to be emotional topics -- especially in light of ongoing vandalism and environmental destruction in the River West area below the bluffs.

The city of Fresno, for example, has recommended that parking be under or near the old San Joaquin River bridge on the Highway 41 frontage road and not in the Del Mar and Riverview neighborhoods because of traffic, pedestrian and cyclist congestion.

Other stake holders, including the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation trust, contend that putting parking near the old bridge conflicts with the trail's planned route and would limit trail access.

Outgoing Council Member Andres Borgeas, who has worked four years on trail and river-bottom issues, had hoped to receive council approval for the city's recommendations at today's meeting.

But a council agenda packed with controversial issues -- privatizing residential garbage collection, a workshop on a new Granite Park proposal and the bus drivers contract dispute -- persuaded Borgeas to pull the item. Plans now call for the council to hold a public workshop on the trail extension in mid-January.

If you care about trails or the river bottom, pay close attention in 2013.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6632, bmcewen@fresnobee.com or @fresnomac on Twitter.

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