The San Joaquin River Parkway & Conservation Trust, Inc. (River Parkway Trust), a 501(c) 3 non-profit, public benefit corporation, was created in 1988 to establish a continuous greenway along 33 miles of river in the rapidly urbanizing Fresno-Madera region. The Parkway reach of the San Joaquin River is anchored on the upstream end at Millerton Lake State Recreation Area and Friant Dam; on the downstream end it is anchored at Skaggs Bridge Park at State Highway 145.
In partnership with state and federal agencies and local governments, the River Parkway Trust has been successful in protecting San Joaquin River landscapes through fee title acquisition, conservation easements, and wildlife habitat restoration. The River Parkway Trust undertakes projects to provide public access to the river and implement the Parkway’s multiple use Lewis S. Eaton Trail. In addition, the River Parkway Trust provides outdoor education programs for youth and recreational opportunities for the community.
Our primary focus is on the 22-mile reach of the river between Friant Dam and Highway 99, which consists of approximately 6,000 acres of San Joaquin River bottomlands. This particular reach of the San Joaquin River has attained statewide significance through legislative action that created a state agency to oversee the San Joaquin River Parkway. In 1992, the state of California enacted the San Joaquin River Conservancy Act, finding that,
“…the San Joaquin River, its broad corridors, and its prominent bluffs constitute a unique and important environmental, cultural, scientific, agricultural, educational, recreational, scenic, flood water conveyance, and wildlife resource that should be preserved for the enjoyment of, and appreciation by, present and future generations.”
The planning for the Parkway actually began in 1985 when citizens expressed concern about rapid growth in the Fresno-Madera region and plans for development in the San Joaquin River bottomlands. In 1988, the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust was incorporated and initiated a formal planning process that produced the San Joaquin River Parkway and Environs Conceptual Plan (1989). Based on the findings in this plan, then-State Assemblyman Jim Costa (now US Representative) gained approval to form a San Joaquin River Parkway Task Force (AB-3121), a group of 25 agencies and organizations that held numerous community workshops and crafted the San Joaquin River Parkway Task Force Plan, which was published in 1992. This Plan included the recommendation to form the San Joaquin River Conservancy and it was created in 1992 by state legislation, AB2452 (Costa). The Plan subsequently endured environmental review and was adopted by the San Joaquin River Conservancy as the Interim San Joaquin River Parkway Master Plan (Parkway Plan) in December 1997. The Conservancy initiated a Master Plan Update in 2012.
In 2006, a landmark agreement was reached between water users, environmental groups, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to restore a 130-mile section of the San Joaquin River from Friant Dam to the confluence of the Merced River by reintroducing a sustainable wild population of salmon. Salmon were extirpated from the upper San Joaquin in the 1940’s as a result of building Friant Dam. In 2009, Congress authorized the San Joaquin River Restoration Program to implement the settlement agreement. Also in 2009, the River Parkway Trust led efforts to form the San Joaquin River Partnership, a non-profit collaborative of organizations supporting the restoration efforts.
Since its inception in 1988, the River Parkway Trust has evolved from its planning role to being a driving force in the creating the San Joaquin River Parkway.