San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust has purchased another stretch of riverside land — an important piece of a puzzle needed for a 22-mile public-access regional park envisioned in north Fresno.
The newly acquired Sumner Peck Ranch boasts oak forest and riparian vistas alongside acres of foothill vineyard, citrus, berries and landscaped event space. It’s within territory of the Yokuts.
Accessible by Friant Expressway, it’s the largest piece of riverside property the trust owns, which executive director Sharon Weaver said will result in the land opening to the public for walking, hiking and biking sooner than if owned by a state agency.
Ranch roads and meandering trails cut through habitat used by deer, beaver, bobcat and migrating geese, and the land is far enough from the road that vehicle noise is silenced by birdsong, rippling river water and ruffling leaves from the breeze.
“It’s a remarkable piece of land,” said Jolene Telles, who rode her bike on the property with family members on a recent public-access day. “It’s classic Central California foothills.”
The property is not yet open to the public on a regular basis. But, it will be open to the public January 15 though 18. Registration is required and can be done at riverparkway.org.
River Parkway Trust purchased the 76-acre parcel from the Peck family and developed a small winery, fruit stand and special events venue. It was developed by the Ball family.
Listed at $4.5 million
“It’s gorgeous,” said Lisa Woolf, who sits on the trust’s board of directors. “It’s not a surprise that the Peck family has the most beautiful piece of land in Fresno County. Now, they’ve allowed us to own it. I’m grateful. They could have sold it to someone else, for more.”
The property was listed for sale on Loopnet.com for $4.5 million, but was purchased for a lesser amount that Weaver did not disclose. Funds to buy it came from private donations and a $3.6 million grant in conservation funds from the California Wildlife Conservation Board.
Sumner Peck Ranch is connected to Ball Ranch, Ledger Island and the Willow Unit of the San Joaquin River Ecological Reserve, creating what will become contiguous protected wildlife habitat.
“We’re excited because we own the parcel and can operate public access,” Weaver said. Public access hasn’t been available on some nearby properties.
Funding for some of the operation costs for areas of the parkway within the city of Fresno will likely come from Measure P, a Fresno city sales tax for recreation and parks that was recently reaffirmed by a state appellate court.
Vision for Sumner Peck Ranch
The vision for this San Joaquin Parkway project was inspired by a proposal to develop the Ball Ranch area in the mid-1980s. Instead, residents organized to protect the land from development and to conserve it for habitat and public access.
Surrounding parcels are owned by the San Joaquin River Conservancy. The state agency has said it doesn’t have the funding needed to operate and maintain consistent public access, Weaver said.
“The goal is to have a 22-mile contiguous swatch of open space, trail and parks and lots of public access,” she said. “That’s a longtime, long-term goal.”
As for the next few years at Sumner Peck Ranch, Weaver said the trust intends to operate the event venue and fruit stand and eventually remove some of the crops and restore farm lands to native habitat and add a natural-surface trail system.
The trust hasn’t decided yet if there will be a fee to enter or if dogs will be allowed once the space is open to the public regularly.
Historically, the area was used by Valley Yokutch — Dumna, Kechiye and Chukchansi tribes — and native people continue to gather resources up and down the river in the area.
Recent visitors to the Ranch told The Fresno Bee they came across Indian grinding stones and other cultural resources.
Weaver said a cultural survey has not been conducted, but it will be done in consultation with nearby tribes prior to any development on the property.
Planning for public trails and habitat restoration will begin this year.
For more information or to donate to the river parkway, visit riverparkway.org.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly said funding for some of the operation costs will likely come from Measure P, a Fresno city sales tax for recreation and parks. Funding for some of the operation costs for areas of the parkway within the city of Fresno will likely come from Measure P.