The future of a popular paved trail that runs alongside Woodward Park in northeast Fresno is up for public discussion.
A hot issue regarding the proposed 2.5-mile addition to the Lewis S. Eaton Trail is centered around this question: Should the only designated parking lot for the trail be accessible by entering Madera County -- equating to about a 10-mile round trip from Fresno?
Many north Fresno homeowners near the proposed trail extension are happy with that parking arrangement, which is in the proposed plan.
Details about that plan, along with four alternatives, were on display Tuesday evening during an open house at the Pinedale Community Center in northwest Fresno. It was organized by the San Joaquin River Conservancy, the lead planning agency for the project which is under the state's jurisdiction.
The project would extend the Eaton trail from Highway 41 downstream to Spano Park within the San Joaquin River Parkway.
The conservancy is seeking public comment by July 8 before work starts on the environmental impact report. A draft is expected to be completed by the fall.
Dave Koehler, executive director of the nonprofit San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, is happier with the first alternative, which includes an additional 40-stall parking lot in north Fresno along with the parking accessible through Madera County.
Currently, the proposed 50-stall parking lot is near the Woodward Bluffs Mobile Home Estates. To access it, motorists have to first drive into Madera County, get off at the first offramp toward Children's Hospital Central California, and then loop back on the road that runs parallel to Highway 41.
"We think it should have both vehicle access entrances," Koehler said. "The one that is proposed we are supportive of, but we really think Fresno deserves access from the Fresno side. It's a public road to public land. Where's the fairness in sealing the public out?"
In February 2013, right before the Fresno City Council decided to pass the Eaton trail planning responsibilities to the conservancy, the council recommended not to build a parking lot for the Eaton trail in residential north Fresno.
Melinda Marks, executive officer for the conservancy, said her agency took the council's recommendation to heart and didn't include that parking lot in its current proposal.
Resident Yolanda Partida, who lives a few blocks away from the proposed Eaton trail extension, said she's happy the proposed plan doesn't include a parking lot near her home. She said existing commercial parking lots nearby should be used. The proposed plan also provides for three pedestrian and bicycle access points at Spano Park, West Riverview Drive and Churchill Avenue.
Budget woes and a shifting of responsibilities have slowed the project in recent years. But the conservancy can dip into $36 million in bonds, some of which can be used for planning and extending the Eaton trail -- although the bonds don't provide for long-term management costs, Marks said.
Koehler said the Eaton trail extension is long overdue. The last major leg was added in 1998, he said. The goal is a 22-mile riverside parkway stretching from Friant to Highway 99. The Eaton trail is currently four miles long.
Marks said all of the Eaton extension alternatives will be available by Thursday at www.sjrc.ca.gov.
Public comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Melinda Marks, San Joaquin River Conservancy, 5469 E. Olive Ave., Fresno, CA 93727.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, email@example.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.