Friday, November 20, 2015

A Small City Recognizes Her Greatest Treasure: Tuolumne River Parkway Trail Nears Completion (update)

I've been providing occasional updates on the progress of the Tuolumne River Parkway trail that is being constructed in Waterford, California, where the river leaves the Sierra Nevada behind and flows into the Great Valley. It's been a source of some community pride that the city has finally come to realize the value of the river. It used to be a dumping ground. Now it will become a learning resource for our children, since the trail will be within walking distance of three different schools.

Progress seems to alternate between "none" and "very rapid". There were several weeks where nothing much would seem to happen, and then practically overnight a section of trail will suddenly sprout fully completed slope barriers. The barren field at the top of the bluff was ignored for weeks, and seven days ago, a paved parking lot appeared. Today was one of the rapid days. A stairwell will be necessary to provide access from the high bluffs on the downstream end of the trail. The foundations for the stairwell have been in place for a month or more, but nothing more seemed to be happening.
As I walked down the trail, I could see a huge crane in the distance (and it wasn't of the Sandhill variety; sorry for the bird humor). Workers were lowering a section of the stairwell into place. More than half of the stair sections had already been put into position.

I watched for a few minutes as the foreman directed the crane operator by walkie-talkie. It was interesting because the operator was completely out of sight above the bluff, but he or she had such a delicate touch that the stairwell section was lifted or dropped six inches at a time to get it into the right spot, based only on the verbal directions from the foreman below.

My walk today once again illustrated the value of this stretch of the Tuolumne River. The thin artery of water and the related riparian habitat is a sanctuary for dozens of bird species and other creatures. I've seen all manner of small rodents and reptiles, and the occasional Gray Fox. On this particular day I was able to capture some photos of birds that I rarely see in urban settings.

I've seen them elsewhere (at the San Joaquin NWR, Pecos National Historical Park, and my west campus), but this was the first time I've seen a Say's Phoebe along the river trail.

Acorn Woodpeckers (above) are common along the river, and I always enjoy watching their antics. They look like clowns, and sometimes act like them. They are endemic to the southwest, Mexico and Central America.

I've yet to see a Black-chinned Hummingbird in my yard or the local pasture, but I've seen them numerous times along the river, both in August and today, in mid-November.
It's not Yosemite National Park, and it's not one of the Serengeti-like bird refuges with tens of thousands of migratory geese and cranes, but it is a small bit of river that preserves a natural environment with species numbering in the hundreds. I see something new almost every time I walk this trail that is almost literally in my own backyard. It's our city's most precious resource. I look forward to the completion of the trail in a few weeks.

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