RecFest organizers say party at the river will go on, next to homeless camp at park

First RecFest at Tuolumne River Regional Park

Hundreds of people showed up Saturday at Tuolumne River Regional Park’s Gateway Parcel for Modesto RecFest, a celebration of all things outdoors that can happen just south of downtown.
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Hundreds of people showed up Saturday at Tuolumne River Regional Park’s Gateway Parcel for Modesto RecFest, a celebration of all things outdoors that can happen just south of downtown.

Organizers are inviting families to Saturday’s Modesto RecFest at Gateway Park, a free event that provides participants a chance to do some trail running, bicycle rides and fishing along the Tuolumne River.

The Tuolumne River Trust, Operation 9-2-99 and other groups have worked hard to clean this area of Modesto along the river into a regional venue for a variety of recreational activities. It had become a dumping ground for people to get rid of their trash and junk.

Now, they want to re-introduce residents to the parks along the river, so they can experience what they can offer for recreation, said Chris Guptill, founder of Operation 9-2-99.

He said they’ve built new bike trails and horse trails they want to show off, and they’ve done a lot of maintenance to keep Gateway Park looking like a regional park. He said most people might not know what this area has to offer, and they hope RecFest can change that.

“I’m excited to get people out here, because the conditions are great,” Guptill said. “We want to have them come back again. That’s the kind of positive recreation we want out here.”

Kids raft with Meg Gonzalez of the Tuolumne River Trust during Family Summer Camp at the Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto. The Rec Fest is another opportunity to get to know the river. File The Modesto Bee

The RecFest organizers have become frustrated over an encampment of more than 200 homeless people living in more than 100 tents at the adjacent Beard Brook Park.

RecFest’s check-in will be at Beard Brook Park on South Morton Boulevard, between 10th and 11 streets in Modesto. But all the activities offered Saturday will be held at Gateway Park. Guptill said organizers have taken steps to ensure Saturday’s event will go off without a hitch.

“It’s two different areas, and I think there’s enough of a buffer-zone between the two,” Guptill said.

Modesto spokesman Thomas Reeves said about 30 to 40 tents had been set up in an area that had been reserved by the RecFest organizers, but those campers were asked to move back into the designated area for them. He said the campers moved without incident.

The city opened the park to homeless campers Sept. 18 after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — whose jurisdiction includes California — ruled Sept. 4 that prosecuting people for sleeping on public property because there are not enough shelter beds or other alternatives amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

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A homeless camp is pictured Friday morning Sept. 28, 2018 in Beard Brook Park in Modesto, Calif. The City of Modesto is allowing homeless people to camp there as a temporary solution. Joan Barnett Lee jlee@modbee.com

Reeves stressed that the city still considers the Beard Brook Park encampment a temporary “response to an urgent need.” He said city officials continue searching for another location for these homeless people.

He said city officials on Monday are considering two locations, and they are close to choosing one of them. It’s unclear when a decision will be made, but Reeves said the locations being considered could be “game-changers” when dealing what City Manager Joe Lopez has called a local crisis.

Lopez and Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes are working closely together, Reeves said, and it’s possible that a new location for Modesto’s homeless campers could serve as the spot for the county’s proposed low-barrier shelter for homeless people. Proposed locations for the shelter have been met with heated resistance by residents and others.

Hundreds of people showed up for RecFest at Gateway Park in March. Guptill said RecFest attendees should not be worried about Saturday’s event, which was planned as a family-friendly event.

“We’ve done all the due diligence to make sure that’s exactly what’s going to happen” said Guptill, who was at Gateway Park with others Monday removing garbage and debris that had accumulated recently.

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John Marshall with the Backcounty Horsemen talks with bikers during RecFest at Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto, Calif., on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

He said the water levels will be higher this weekend, which will allow for paddling along nearby Dry Creek. Other activities available at Saturday’s RecFest -- from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- include a youth fishing clinic, nature walks, disc golf and kite flying.

Participants are encouraged to bring a picnic and their own recreational equipment; a limited amount of equipment will be available to borrow at the event. They can explore a variety of activities through guided or self-guided options. There will be informational booths and snacks provided.

Reeves said city officials assigned to a threat assessment team continue to meet twice a day to deal with any issues involving the homeless campers at Beard Brook Park.

A variety of charitable groups have been at the park, providing a variety of needed services. “They’re doing really good work,” Reeves said.

But city officials are trying to avoid having a situation in which a lot of other people just show up at the park to offer donations. Reeves said they’re worried the park can become a dumping ground for unneeded items, like some moldy tents someone dropped off recently.

“The homeless people don’t want to sleep in moldy tents. I wouldn’t want to sleep in moldy tents,” Reeves said.

He said the park is not set up to be a “clearinghouse” for donated items, but city officials are not going to regulate who comes in and out of the park.

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Volunteers with the Well Community Fellowship bring supplies to homeless people in Beard Brook Park on Friday afternoon Oct. 5, 2018 in Modesto, Calif. Joan Barnett Lee jlee@modbee.com

The dog park at Beard Brook Park remained closed Monday, and it’s still unclear when it will become available to residents. The dog park initially was scheduled to open Sept. 29, but city wanted to focus all its resources on the homeless crisis.

Reeves said it would not be a good time to open the dog park now, since officials learned of a dog with Parvo virus at the park. The dog belonged to one of the homeless campers.

Parvo is a highly contagious virus in puppies and young dogs, and Reeves said it wouldn’t be appropriate to invites residents and their dogs to the park until they can be sure there no longer remains any signs of the virus.

He said there is a significant number of homeless people with dogs at the park, and city officials have called for a veterinarian that will volunteer her time and vaccinations for the dogs.

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