A new state park that will be California’s 280th and the first new one added in over a decade is expected to be up for public access soon following final budgetary commitments in Governor Gavin Newsom’s $300.7 billion revised state budgetary proposal made late last week.
For the last decade, a four square mile, 2,400 acre Stanislaus County property southwest of Modesto has undergone major restoration by River Partners, a conservation group. Currently known as Dos Rios Ranch, native trees, brush, and grass have been planted in fields surrounding the area where the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers meet. Since restoration efforts began in 2012, an abundance of wildlife has returned to the region, including many rarer species, helping spur state interest in making Dos Rios a state park.
“Lots of wildlife are responding,” River Partners President Julie Rentner said last week. “Birds are moving in like crazy. There hadn’t been deer on this property for 60 years. Now they are back.”
State officials have noted that the Dos Rios park would serve the San Joaquin Valley, which has few easily reachable state parks. Dos Rios would be the closest to Modesto proper, only 10 miles away and much closer than the current closest parks, Turlock Lake State Recreation Area, and Coe State Park.
“The beauty of a place like this is that many people in the Central Valley don’t get to experience the Central Valley for its really incredible and local natural beauty,” said State Parks Director Armando Quintero during a visit to the site last week. “It’s a welcome addition to the San Joaquin Valley, which has fewer state parks than any other region in the state. The property will serve a park-poor region and help address inequities in access to state recreation sites. Everyone deserves to have close access to vibrant parks and this opportunity is an exciting one.”
Should the $5 million that Governor Newsom has earmarked in his budget proposal for the new park go through, the new park would be open for hiking by 2023, with basic amenities like restrooms, designated trails, parking lots, and picnic areas to be established by 2028. Other amenities, such as campgrounds, would come shortly afterwards.
The Dos Rios park would ultimately become the newest state park since Fort Ord Dunes State Park outside of Monterey was established in 2009.
Political implications of the new park
However, the timing of the new park, funding, and location have been drawing the eyebrows of many, who see the new state park as a politically influencing action, particularly this close to the 2022 elections.
“So the region, particularly Stanislaus County, is pretty purple,” explained Paul Feller, a parks researcher who helps study the political implications of parks legislation and the creation of new parks on a state and federal scale, to the Globe on Monday. “Three state Senate seats are in the county, 2 Democratically held [Senators Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) and Anna Caballero (D-Salinas)] and 1 GOP held [Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno)]. Assembly seats are split between a Republican [Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon)] and a Democrat [Assemblyman Adam Grey (D-Merced)].
“It’s also very split up on other elections. The current Congressional district in Stanislaus County has been very contentious, with Congressman Josh Harder (D-CA) only being elected in the 2018 ‘blue wave’ mid-terms over [former Congressman] Jeff Denham. And this is also a county where Democratic candidates for President have only won by a few percentage points in recent years while the GOP candidate always seems to be chosen for Governor. Cox won here in 2018, while the County was one of the minority that voted to recall Newsom last year, with Larry Elder getting the most support of all the candidates. Some of the most contentious races of the 2022 mid-terms will be here too.”
“Democrats need any edge they can get here. They don’t want to lose an area so close to the Bay Area to the GOP. Conversely, the GOP really does not want to let an area go, especially one where the GOP has been growing in strength. There were not too many of those in California in the 2010’s, so they treasure them.”
“So a new state park is something that could change minds, or at least influence some people. You know Newsom, a Democrat, put this funding in the area for a new State Park. Maybe thank the party that did that. That’s the reasoning. I mean, this park has been in the works for a decade. It’s only now during an election year that the final funding is finally pushed through? In an area where both parties are looking for any kind of an edge.”
“Usually parks are meant as sort of a thank you. I mean, Indiana and West Virginia of all states got their first national parks during the Trump years, some coming out of nowhere to get them. Conversely, a lot of blue states got new protected areas during the Obama years. So we know this happens.”
“Look, this park is a gift. A real gift. It is stunningly beautiful. But sometimes we need to ask ‘Why now?’ or ‘Why here?’ when it comes to new parks or new area designations, because it is never 100% altruistic.”
The 2022-2023 state budget with $5 million in funding for the new Dos Rios park is expected to be approved by the state legislature and Governor by July 1st, the new fiscal year deadline.