River Partners' mission is to create wildlife habitat for the benefit of people and the environment.

Home » News/Events » The Journal » Vol. 13 Issue 1 » Putting the Flood Back on Floodplains

Breaking Ground in Fresno: the Riverbottom Planting Day is a Community Success

  • By Heyo Tjarks, Restoration Ecologist

(Above) More than 100 local community members including Fresno City Councilmember Steve Brandau showed their support and helped plant 2,000 native trees and shrubs.

Thank you to everyone who made it to the ground-breaking ceremony at our Riverbottom Park and Schneider Property Habitat Restoration Project! On Saturday, January 30th, River Partners kicked off the 147-acre project which straddles the San Joaquin River (SJR) in Fresno and Madera Counties. Project partners include The San Joaquin River Conservancy, the City of Fresno, River Tree, Tree Fresno, Valley LEAP, Revive the San Joaquin, the California Conservation Corps, the Sequoia Chapter of the Native Plant Society, California Central Valley Hikers, Girl Scout Troop 2864, and Tiger and Cub Scouts from St. Anthony’s Troop 223.

(Left) River Partners Restoration Field Manager Frank Reynoso provides planting pointers to community volunteers. (Right) River Partners prepared the site for planting by clearing weeds and debris and installing a drip irrigation system. The site can be seen from homeowners on the bluffs above the river in Fresno.

The project, on land owned by the City of Fresno and the San Joaquin River Conservancy (part of the San Joaquin River Parkway), increases and improves riparian habitat and connectivity for several rare wildlife species, enhances connectivity of an important wildlife corridor along the SJR, and improves recreational opportunities for local residents. Over the course of the project, River Partners will plant and maintain over 19,000 native plants. These plants will grow into a self-sustaining forest over a 3-year period and expand potential habitat for bald eagles, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle, least Bell’s vireo, western yellow-billed cuckoo, Swainson’s hawk, and Chinook salmon, amongst many other species. The project is also creating additional habitat for migrating and local wildlife as well such as songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, bobcats and deer. Along with providing wildlife habitat, riverfront forests and floodplains also serve as filters for storm water and urban run-off, improve groundwater recharge, and offer flood protection by reducing erosion while also spreading out flood waters without causing damage to infrastructure or agricultural commodities.

(Above) Volunteers from Fresno and Madera having a fun time while improving
wildlife habitat along the San Joaquin River.

In addition to all of the ecological benefits, the restoration project will also provide low-impact recreational opportunities along the river within the San Joaquin River Parkway. The Riverbottom Park area is included in the San Joaquin River Parkway Master Plan which has a goal of extending the Eaton Trail – a multiuse trial – from Friant Dam to Highway 99. Currently, the Riverbottom Park area is informally used for hiking, biking, dog-walking, bird watching, and swimming. We have designed our project to keep these recreational opportunities available for the local community while still providing the needed ecological benefits.

With only 6% of the riparian forests left in the San Joaquin basin, the need for ecological restoration couldn’t be more important. Native forests which can buffer the effects of urban development, agricultural conversion, and long-term drought – not to mention the potential flooding caused by this year’s El Nino – are a crucial part to keeping our community healthy, vibrant, and beautiful. This couldn’t be more pronounced than it is on this stretch on of the SJR which is centered between the growing metropolis of Fresno and the expansive agricultural production of Madera County.

As a recent transplant to the City of Fresno, I am personally looking forward to watching this project grow and flourish. As I put my “roots down” into Fresno, I am excited to be part of a community which has amazing local support and advocacy for our river, our trees, and environmental stewardship. If you missed out on our kick-off ceremony, I highly recommend that you check out any (or all!) of the organizations that made this event possible. There are always opportunities to volunteer or get involved. A special “thank you” to the San Joaquin River Conservancy who funded this project and made it all possible.

I look forward to seeing you on the River!