The entire Parks Master Plan is available at all 13 County libraries, Parks & Recreation Department located at 3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite C, Modesto and the Planning Department located at 1010 Tenth Street, Modesto.
Purpose of the Parks Master Plan
The Stanislaus County Parks Master Plan provides a comprehensive overview to guide the Board of Supervisors, Parks Recreation Commission and the Parks Department in meeting a variety of goals for park lands and users over the next twenty years. In 1994 Stanislaus County updated its General Plan and charged the Parks Department and Parks Commission to accomplish several goals with the development of a Master Plan. Development of this long range plan has included a needs assessment, specific park plans, future planning, development of design standards, and economic and fiscal planning.
Planning Process and Needs Assessment
The plan offers a road map and guidelines; incorporating flexibility to capture opportunities while planning for the future needs of the county population. The plan was prepared using an interactive process involving the public, county staff, concessionaires and the consultant team.
A series of workshops and a questionnaire (in both English and Spanish) were two of the tools used to gather community input and form the basis of a Needs Assessment. The assessment includes a review of population characteristics, growth trends, age and ethnic distributions and draws conclusions related to recreation needs. The major findings include:
- Rapid future growth is projected for Stanislaus County to the year 2015; with 85% of the growth anticipated within existing cities.
- Growth is anticipated to focus especially along the Route 99 corridor. This growth will place greater demand for close in regional park facilities.
- The anticipated population distribution reflects a baby boom generation with 75% of the population between 25 and 44 or under age 17. This supports the need for more family oriented recreation activities.
- The trend continues toward a population with more diverse ethnic origins. This increasing diversity traditionally places a strong emphasis on family and extended family. The need for facilities for group use will continue to grow.
A review of recreation needs from both a state, regional and local level provided the following applicable conclusions for the County Parks:
- There is increased visitor support for simple inexpensive activities.
- Protection of the natural environment is an important aspect of outdoor recreation. Based on unmet demand and public support the following eight outdoor activities should have top priority for public funds.
- trail hiking
- camping in developed sites
- camping in primitive sites
- general nature study
- picnicking in developed sites
- freshwater fishing
- visiting museums/historic sites
- The seven park amenities considered most important include:
- children play areas
- open space
- barbecue/picnic ground
- lighted facilities
- bike paths
- sport fields
- Strong support was voiced for several special interest activities including:
- A community park in the town of Empire
- Improvement to the water ski area at Modesto Reservoir Regional Park
- An archery range
- A sports complex in Salida
Area standards are provided to show the amount of parklands provided based on population at both the national level and for other California localities. These statistics form the basis for later evaluation of the County Parks System and recommendations for park specific improvements and new parks.
Existing County Parks
The plan documents the existing system of 25 county parks that includes five regional parks, seven fishing accesses and eleven neighborhood parks that serve the unincorporated communities in the County. The inventory also looks at the Tuolumne River Regional Park and parks operated by other agencies that are used by County citizens. The existing recreation program and administration system is also reviewed with an eye to future needs.
Park and Facilities Standards
The Master Plan includes an overview of general park standards and mitigation strategies for new park development. These standards also address compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and specific recommendations for park architecture, interpretive facilities and visitor centers. Recommended general standards address a variety of activities including: boating, fishing, hunting and wildlife management, as well as special use facilities such as archery, off-highway vehicles, model airplanes, firearm ranges and sports facilities. Administrative and service areas are also discussed to provide a general overview. These recommendations are further refined in the following section relating to specific park plans.
Specific Park Plans
The specific park plans identify improvements for each of the existing county parks.
Neighborhood Parks: The eleven neighborhood parks generally have new upgrades to replace the existing restrooms, new play equipment, and perimeter lighting necessary for park security. New furniture includes picnic tables, barbecue grills, trash cans and benches. Additional trees are proposed as well as shade structures, park paths, picnic shelters and where appropriate basketball courts, volley ball courts, and improvements to baseball diamonds and concession buildings. It is anticipated that over the life of the Master Plan new infrastructure such as irrigation systems will need to be installed.
Regional Parks: The five regional park plans have conceptual designs for improvements to existing uses, as well as new uses. Improvements include upgrades of restrooms and play equipment for safety and to meet ADA, expansion of camping areas, improved picnic areas, additional trees/shade structures, upgrading of existing infrastructure such as roads, parking lots, bridges, irrigation systems, potable water, and sewage treatment. All of the parks need new brochures, interpretive materials and directional signage. New features include:
The off-road vehicle area of the park will be expanded into the recently acquired adjacent parcels. Additional campsites, a second water system and swimming hole are recommended within the developed areas near the entrance. To reduce the potential impacts of erosion and siltation and maintain the rough terrain areas, earth moving equipment should be provided at the park full time. An additional emergency helicopter landing area is also recommended. All development to the park will need to recognize potential sensitive archeological and natural resources.
La Grange Parks’ diverse area has a broad range of recommended improvements. The County should explore with the Turlock Irrigation District the potential of day-use recreation easements for Dawson Lake. Within the town of La Grange improvements to historic structures should continue to accommodate a visitor center, nature programs, ranger residence and other uses. The area around the Old LaGrange Bridge should include a trailhead for fishing access, loop trail and other day use connecting many of the areas of the park. Low impact improvements such as a loop nature trail are also proposed to connect to Basso Bridge from the town of La Grange. Day use facilities should be developed at the historic gold dredge pond.
The off road vehicle areas include exploration of an under 80 cc motor cross track, improvements to the camping and day use facilities and enhancements for special events. To reduce the potential impacts of erosion and siltation and maintain the rough terrain areas, earth moving equipment should be provided at the park full time.
Improvements are recommended to the Kiwanis Youth Camp, as well as the development of the historic gold dredge camp as an interpretive resource. Up to five hike-in camp sites are proposed for the Joe Domecq Wilderness area. A native plant restoration program should promote the restoration of native vegetation that remains from the former dredge operations.
Laird Regional Park identifies several features that could expand the recreation activities offered in this portion of the County. Across the river from the park is several hundred acres of river bottom land (not in agricultural production) that could be accessed from Grayson Road. This land could provide a relatively undeveloped area for overnight camping, trails and environmental education in a river setting. Discussions with the sheriff should explore the potential of improving the pistol range to accommodate a public archery range. The creation of a swimming lagoon using the existing ponds should also be explored due to the dangerous river conditions in this location.
This park also serves the role of neighborhood park to the nearby communities so it includes a new boat launch, fishing pier/cleaning station, additional picnic facilities, playground equipment, group areas and improvements to the play fields. The undeveloped area is retained and a river front nature trail proposed.
All of the improvements to the park will need to be coordinated with the Sheriff's Department and honor farm operations, as well as consider the continued potential of flooding from the river.
Modesto Reservoir Regional Park includes major improvements to both existing features as well as new activities. It has been assumed that due to the unique recreation value of this water resource, other methods will be utilized to reach water quality goals and that continued investments to the park are desirable.
Major renovations are proposed to the popular water ski area and to the day use areas. A new off road vehicle training area and an archery course expands the recreational opportunities. Overnight camping areas are also improved and new camping is developed including more remote areas for groups. Seasonal duck hunting with permits continue to be supported with a habitat enhancement program to promote both wildlife observation and sport hunting.
A new park headquarters and sheriff's office is proposed near the existing entry.
Woodward Reservoir Regional Park improvements continue to focus intensive uses along the southern and western shores but increases the emphasis of separating day use and overnight use areas. Renovation of the store, better accommodation of the lower lake levels, and new sport fields for the adjacent group use form the focus of the day use areas on the west side of the lake. A second concession facility east of the entry station will serve the major family day use area along with a widened boat ramp, new sand beaches for swimming, picnic facilities and play areas.
Overnight facilities will continue with upgrades to the favorite areas adjacent to the lake. The camping areas in the east will be improved with shade trees, and improved infrastructure to make it a more desirable location.
A new park headquarters and sheriff's office is proposed near the existing entry.
Fishing Access: The level of amenities offered at the County river and fishing access relate directly to the size of adjacent park land. Upkeep of existing access roads, parking lots and minor amenities (trash cans and porta-potties) will continue due to limited land holdings. The Turlock Reservoir access with its slightly larger land area is proposed to include slightly upgraded amenities such as a foot trails along the lake inlet, picnic table, grill, trash can as well as a porta-potty.
The two currently unimproved locations at Shilo and Riverdale include picnic and parking areas. At Shilo a small boat ramp is proposed. The Riverdale boat put-in is aimed at non-motorized or car top boats. Native vegetation restoration is recommended throughout the park, with a fishing access trail, amenities for informal play, play equipment and full restroom facilities planned.
Enhancements are proposed to existing amenities the largest river access points of Basso Bridge, Fox Grove and Las Palmas. At Fox Grove the sheltered cove should be investigated for a new swimming hole. A new informal play area, additional picnic tables and nature trail are also proposed to increase the amenities for family outings. Las Palmas has similar amenities planned in the currently undeveloped northern portion of the park. Enhancement of the native vegetation is recommended for all three parks.
New Regional Park: During the needs analysis the overall acreage of regional park lands was identified as adequate to serve the future populations (as compared to national standards). However the locations of the current regional parks leave a gap in service in the southwestern portion of the county. To fulfill this need, a regional park is recommended to serve the area encompassed by the communities of Turlock, Patterson, Crows Landing and Newman. This park should focus on the San Joaquin River with a minimum of 250 acres to accommodate a variety of recreation opportunities and provide dedicated open space to conserve unique resources. A specific site has not been selected.
New River Accesses: A second area of regional shortages are access to the Tuolumne River between the existing access points at La Grange/ Basso Bridge, Fox Grove, Tuolumne River Regional Park, Riverdale and Shilo to improve the opportunities for short day trips on the river. These additional regional facilities can be relatively small parcels (3 to 10 acres) that together form a larger regional facility similar to the "string of pearls" on the Stanislaus River (operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers). Potential sites include South Appling Way in Waterford and near the Turlock Lake Campground. Others have not yet been identified.
New Neighborhood Parks: The needs analysis identified a large statistical shortfall of neighborhood park lands (a shortfall of 279 acres compared to the existing 35 acres). A more meaningful goal is to develop at least one park per unincorporated community for those communities where no other agency manages park lands within a 5 mile radius. Prototypes are provided for these new neighborhood parks, such as in Empire, to provide a basis for working with the community to locate the park and provide the amenities desired. A second prototype is designed to accommodate sports parks to serve a larger community, such as requested at Salida.
Geer Road Landfill: One of the specific goals of the Master Plan was an exploration of development of recreation uses at Geer Road Landfill, with emphasis on its potential for a golf course. A review of the existing environmental conditions of the site was conducted to determine that there were no fatal flaws that would prevent recreational uses of the site. However, there were certain requirements to make the site accessible for public use. Evaluation of the site for a golf course determined that an executive length course (par 60, 4,255 yards) and a driving range can be accommodated using the entire site. A clubhouse, maintenance yard/shop and parking area could be accommodated on the unfilled portions of the site adjacent to Geer Road.
The preliminary economic viability analysis determined that the financial burden associated with the landfill site is estimated in the range of $2.9 million to $5.8 million (primarily for imported top soil). This burden would increase the cost of the golf course into the range of $8 to $11 million plus financing costs; which would require unreasonably high revenues. Purchasing land and building a new course would make more economic sense at this time. In the future should free soil become available, or the demand for golf become high enough to support the development "burden", the course may become economically viable. Other recreation uses were also reviewed and a viable field archery range, as well as other activities, such as picnic, or hiking trails, that do not permit access to the mesas were suggested as possible. However, any public access to the site will require some additional expenditure to protect the existing monitoring and maintenance facilities related to the landfill.
During the life of the Master Plan, the County will be faced with a number of special issues that are affecting parks departments nationwide. General policies, specific concerns and potential approaches are established to address three of these issues.
Reservoirs and drinking water quality: As the population increases in Stanislaus County and the demand for quality drinking water rises, it is likely that issues will surface related to continued recreation use of the three reservoirs. Throughout the State, water reservoirs that provide drinking water typically restrict human contact and direct access to the water, often eliminating water sports and restricting motorized boating. The plan summarizes the primary areas of health concern that result in the restrictions. Because of the unique recreation activities these reservoirs support, it is important that the Parks and Recreation Department maintain an on-going dialogue with the irrigation districts to try to resolve issues as they arise in the future to be able to retain recreational use of the reservoirs.
New urban development that surrounds neighborhood parks. Four of the existing neighborhood parks owned and maintained by the County serve small pockets of unincorporated county populations that are surrounded by new development in newly annexed portions of the City of Modesto. These include Fairview and Parklawn located in southwestern Modesto, and Mono and Oregon Drive Parks located in eastern Modesto in the Airport Neighborhood. As new development occurs around these county residential areas there may be the potential to work cooperatively with the City to consolidate park lands to provide appropriate levels of service to present day standards.
Law enforcement and recreation programs: County Parks has an agreement with the County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services throughout the parks system. It is critical to continue to strengthen cross department relations, and an advance reservation system is recommended to be able to predict when large crowds may place additional demands on both departments. As violence and gang related activity continue to climb in California, an effective proactive way to address these issues often lies in prevention programs that incorporate recreation activities. The continued expansion and development of recreation programs through such organizations as PAL offers the opportunity to build a strong relationship between Parks and the Sheriff's Department to enhance the county's quality of life, safety and security while positively impacting the growing needs of our citizens, particularly the youth, with new expanded leisure-time recreation activities. Where possible, the Parks Department and Sheriff's Department should also continue to develop presentations and slide shows for the public's environmental and recreational education.
Economic Development Opportunities
In developing the financing and implementation strategies for this Master Plan, consideration was given to opportunities to fund operations or future park improvements through economic development efforts. In theory, a number of options are possible, including encouraging private sector recreational uses to develop on county surplus lands, or facilitating other joint development of revenue-producing visitor attractions for which the County could receive some financial return. This section provides an overview of the County's resources and the related types of economic opportunities they may support. These include capitalizing on trends such as an increasing tourism value of rural areas, or enhancing the economic return on unique resources like river recreation. It provides a brief review of county owned lands outside of the established parks, though most of these lands are too small to be practical, or already have an active or designated future use. A notable exception is the Geer Road Landfill which is discussed in detail under Future Planning. The last part identifies some of the recreation activities that may provide economic development opportunities. These include working with existing concessionaires, expanding the range of recreation and amusement opportunities, collaboration with private development or special interest groups, or joint ventures.
The Master Plan identifies $10.1 million in proposed improvements to the existing regional parks in the County and $12.9 million in new and improved neighborhood parks. There are several approaches the County may pursue to finance these improvements. The most prominent sources outside of the County general fund include development impact fees, reservoir user fees, ISTEA grants and other granting sources.
The financing strategies are assumed that the improvements would occur over the next 20 to 25 years. The strategy begins with consideration of how existing funding sources can be expanded to assist with new costs. The current $3 million base budget for the County Parks and Recreation Department is from several revenue funds.
Developer Impact Fees: Use of developer impact fees (associated with new residential development) are identified for new park features that respond to the needs of future population growth in Stanislaus County. Improvements to the regional parks and reservoirs are needed to accommodate projected increased use. Impact fee are made based on the projected growth to determine the fee rate that represents a fair share of improvements. Fees to raise funds for the regional parks improvements could be approximately at $41 per single family and $27 per multi family raising the existing fees by approximately 33% and generating approximately $4.7 million.
While it may be possible to establish a development impact fee for some of the improvements to the neighborhood parks, it could result in a rather high impact fee ranging from $230 to $340 per unit in addition to the regional park impact fees. The County has the option of setting a fee lower than the maximum allowed. Another option to reduce this fee would be to adopt a Quimby Act Program to require developers to dedicate the acreage needed for parks.
User Fees: The County collects approximately $1.3 million annually in user fees and concession revenues at the two reservoirs. The potential revenues from a 10% and 15% increase could be approximately $1.8 and $2.7 million respectively. Improvement financing could occur on a pay-as-you-go basis. Another option is financing through bonds.
ISTEA and Other State and Federal Funds: It appears that $2.7 million would be eligible for ISTEA funding (Federal Funding Program established by the Inter-Modal Surface Transportation Act now called TEA-21), if available, although the local match requirements would be 12 percent or about $325,000. The total $2.7 million may exceed the funds available in Stanislaus County during the next six year funding cycle. These funds are allocated by SAAG, which will have $2.517 million for transportation enhancement projects (bike paths, trail head parking lots, park roads) in the upcoming cycle. Stanislaus will need to compete for these funds with other County departments and some of the Cities. Other funding sources include the California Department of Parks and Recreation; California Resources Agency, Secretary's Office; California Resources Agency, Wildlife Conservation Board, California Department of Boating and Waterways, and the California Department of Water Resources. However, in general the dollar amounts and availability from these sources are limited and competition for them is keen.
Assessment Districts: As an alternative, or to fund the existing population share of the new and improved neighborhood parks, it appears the best approach would be some form of benefit assessment, which could take many forms such as Landscape and Lighting Districts, Mello Roos Districts, or other kinds of assessment districts. Areas of benefit would have to be established for each community that desired to fund a neighborhood park in this manner. Depending on how the funding is actually established the annual assessment could be $35 per dwelling unit over 20 years, or from $16 to $22 per $100,000 of assessed value to pay for the new and improved neighborhood parks. Proposition 218 has made all of these financing vehicles much more difficult, but if sufficient community support exists, they can still be done.
Community Redevelopment Funds: The County Redevelopment Agency may be able to participate to a small degree. In surveys conducted by the RDA to determine funding priorities in each community project area, only Empire expressed the desire for a park. The RDA may be able to contribute up to 20% of the estimated cost of the Empire Park. If other communities changed their priorities to include local parks, some additional funds may be available.
Implementation Action Plan
Full implementation of the Master Plan will improve the quality of existing park facilities as well as add approximately 400 acres of new park lands in the form of new neighborhood parks, fishing/river access and a regional park. The Action Plan identifies several steps for an effective implementation program. First it is important to establish a general time frame for implementation of the comprehensive park improvements. Next the preliminary cost estimates for these facilities and the increase operation and maintenance costs are identified. From these two steps arise potential immediate action steps to begin the initial implementation of the Parks Plan. The Action Plan is intended to outline an incremental implementation plan over the next 20 years depending upon the availability and types of funding, or donations of money, labor or materials for specific projects. It is important that the implementation process be systematic so that the new programs and features are balanced with the capacity to oversee the completed projects. The availability of adequate Parks staff and resources for continued monitoring and upkeep should be critically assessed as a part of any undertaking.
The following general strategy has been used to determine the sequencing of individual projects:
correct deficiencies that currently affect the existing population, such as lack of neighborhood parks in certain areas of the County, or facilities that do not meet current recreation standards or other code requirements. This would include such actions as:
- Upgrading restrooms
- New playgrounds
- undertake improvements related to deferred maintenance
- develop new parks and other facilities concurrently with new residential development
- upgrade existing parks with new amenities and programs
- protect critical resources important to the County natural resources and local economy
- acquire land and /or use agreements for future major parks
- develop trail systems that connect regional park facilities
The projects identified in this Master Plan have been arranged within five, fifteen and twenty year horizons. Within each project/year, individual projects are not necessarily listed in priority order. Implementation of these projects may actually occur in different time periods due to changing user preferences, changing land use patterns, availability of funding or other factors. Many projects will occur concurrently. It may be desirable to implement certain projects that have available funding or lower costs in advance of implementing projects which are more desirable, but more costly.
One to Five Year Projects
Existing Neighborhood Park
- Upgrade Restrooms & Play Equipment
- Grayson Park, Grayson
- Lighting Upgrade
Existing Regional Facilities
- Upgrade Restrooms & Play Equipment
- OHV area upgrades
- Modesto Reservoir Regional Park
- Woodward Reservoir Regional Park
- Fox Grove Fishing Access
- Las Palmas Access
- Shilo Fishing Access
- Turlock Reservoir Access
- Empire Neighborhood Park
- Salida Sports Park
- Tuolumne River Access points
Five to Fifteen Year Projects
Existing Neighborhood Park
- Bonita Pool, Crows Landing
- Burbank-Paradise Park, Modesto
- Hatch Park, Keyes
- Salida Park, Salida
Existing Regional Facilities
- Frank Raines Regional Park
- La Grange Regional Park
- Riverdale Fishing Access
- Hickman Neighborhood Park