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Hiking, biking trail in ‘oak jungle’ could double the size of Jacob Myers Park

Drone video: Check out proposed site of hiking, biking trail in Riverbank

West of the grassy picnic area and sandy beaches of Jacob Myers Park and past the mile-long loop trail is 90 acres of riparian wilderness thick with gnarled oak trees that some day could be part of the park.
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West of the grassy picnic area and sandy beaches of Jacob Myers Park and past the mile-long loop trail is 90 acres of riparian wilderness thick with gnarled oak trees that some day could be part of the park.

West of the grassy picnic area and sandy beaches of Jacob Myers Park and even farther past the mile-long paved loop trail are 90 acres of riparian wilderness thick with gnarled oak trees.

The city of Riverbank has had the federal land in its sights as the final phase in the park’s master plan for decades. Now with the potential for grant money and a fundraising effort, the possibility of leasing the land and more than doubling the size of the park is closer to a reality than ever before.

The plan is to preserve the natural setting but carve out within it an approximately 5-mile dirt trail for hiking and mountain biking that would be accessible for people with disabilities.

Mountain bike enthusiast and project promoter Jim Sughrue on Wednesday showed fellow rider Eric Showalter, whose family owns World of Wheels and Fun Sport Bicycles, where the trail would likely start.

“I think it would be fantastic for the youth to have an outlet for something that is not only promoting an active and healthy lifestyle but fulfilling their time with something ... that will keep them out of trouble,” Showalter said.

Sughrue said he also envisions signage throughout the trail to educate users about the plants and animals in the environment, areas off the trail to rest, and life jacket rentals at all the beaches. The retired science teacher said the area would be ideal for school field trips.

But before all that, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to agree to lease the land to Riverbank.

And “before we can even talk to them about an application, we would have to commit to funding the maintenance and operation of that trail,” said Riverbank Parks and Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick.

Sughrue believes volunteer efforts like the ones for trails along Dry Creek and the Tuolumne River could take care of much of the trail maintenance.

Still the city would be paying upward of $100,000 a year for tree-trimming services on the land, said City Manager Sean Scully. “There are a lot of details we have to work out, but the idea is great and we are excited about it,” he said.

Riverbank next week will begin a 10-month process of creating a master plan for all of its parks, including Jacob Myers, that will address the wants and needs for the existing parks, as well as for future parks developed as the city grows. The process will start Tuesday with a presentation by consultants to the City Council, followed over the next several months by community meetings and a survey distributed to residents to determine what they most want from their parks and facilities.

Fitzpatrick said Riverbank in December will learn whether it will be one of the recipients in the first round of grants from Proposition 68. The voter approved initiative authorized $4.1 billion in general obligation bonds for state and local parks, environmental protection and restoration projects, and water projects.

She said the city first applied for a grant for improvements to its Community Center Park on Santa Fe Street but in the second round will apply for funds to continue the work at Jacob Myers Park.

Over the past two decades, the city and the nonprofit fundraising and advisory group Friends of Jacob Myers Park have completed two of the four phases in the park’s master plan.

Phase 1 included revamping the playground, picnic area and boat ramp on the eight acres at the entrance of the park. Phase 2 added the loop trail on 47 acres that features a gazebo donated by local Eagle Scouts, as well a camping area and additional picnic tables. A grass field at the end of the trail in the next four to six weeks will be fenced off for a dog park.

Phases 3 and 4 call for an amphitheater and the hiking and biking trail. Which will come first depends on public input and whether the City Council is ready to commit to maintaining the trail.

Sughrue is hoping that it will and that the trail will be built within the next two years.

He and Showalter said the trail would be quite different than what already exists along Dry Creek and the Tuolumne River, which is in more of an urban setting in Modesto.

“There are hundreds of riders waiting for this to be developed,” he said. “It’s a real wilderness — you are just down in an oak jungle, which is a fantastic place to hang out and ride.”

Showalter added, “An area like this would give a lot more variety to the type of trail. ... There’s a lot more variation in the terrain and natural topography you could use to cultivate a cool trail system.”

Sughrue has organized a potluck fundraiser, the proceeds of which will go to the Friends of Jacob Myers Park and be earmarked for the trail. The event will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at Brenda Athletic Club, 200 Norwegian Ave., Modesto. The event will include swimming, volleyball, live music and a raffle. There is a $5 suggested donation. For more information, visit Brenda Athletic Club or call 209-571-2582.

To learn more about Riverbank’s park master plan, attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at 6707 Third St., Suite B.

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