A boost for ‘park poor’ San Joaquin Valley overdue; river proposal can help

Cheng Her, left, and his wife Linda Moua, right, fish the San Joaquin River at Friant's Broken Bridges Tuesday afternoon, May 15, 2018.
Cheng Her, left, and his wife Linda Moua, right, fish the San Joaquin River at Friant's Broken Bridges Tuesday afternoon, May 15, 2018.

In 1992, while I was still in high school in Fresno, the state Legislature identified the need for a recreational parkway that families from throughout the region could access and enjoy. The San Joaquin River Conservancy was created to manage and develop the San Joaquin River Parkway, a 22-mile recreation area from Millerton Lake to Highway 99. Fast forward 26 year years: That vision is still unrealized and in need of immediate attention and support.

It is no secret that the San Joaquin Valley residents are severely underserved in a region that falls far behind the rate of parks per capita. Despite its growing populations, the Valley is “park poor.” The lack of green space affects members of our most disadvantaged communities the most. As a physician I know that diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and mental health challenges can all be helped by spending more time outdoors with access to natural surroundings and recreational activities.

Dr. Joaquin Arambula, a Fresno Democrat, represents California's 31st Assembly District and can be contacted at Assemblymember. Arambula@assembly.ca.gov. Jeff Walters

According to a report commissioned San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, “California’s San Joaquin Valley: A Region and Its Children Under Stress,” access to parks and green space was one of the most frequently relayed concerns of residents at the community meetings where researchers identified priorities to create a more equitable region.

To help address this regional priority, I introduced Assembly Bill 3218 that would allow the San Joaquin River Conservancy to enter into a management agreement with the California Parks Department to provide for operations and maintenance of the 22 miles of trails and space. This would open the door to funding opportunities and take a step toward realizing a parkway that all could enjoy.

AB 3218 has the support of the California State Parks Foundation, San Joaquin River Trust, Fresno and Madera counties, the city of Fresno, and many other community groups and leaders. Complementing this effort, Proposition 68, if approved in June, will help bring needed state resources to the San Joaquin Valley by providing money for land acquisition, and for ongoing maintenance and operations. Establishing a new legal and cooperative relationship between the state park system and the conservancy will increase opportunities to secure funding for the desperately needed maintenance and operation along the San Joaquin River.

The state parks system consists of 280 campgrounds, historical sites and recreational parks. Unfortunately, most of these beautiful places are located outside the Central Valley and the opportunity for most Valley residents to visit those parks remains elusive. With more than 40 miles of shoreline, the San Joaquin River Parkway can offer fishing, swimming, camping, boating, hiking and environmental education opportunities that we’ve been waiting for a quarter century to experience.

Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, represents California's 31st Assembly District. He can be contacted at Assemblymember. Arambula@assembly.ca.gov.