“Park of the Future” Demonstrates Power of Healthy Rivers for Resilient California

Historic ranch, restored riverway part of bold vision to revitalize up to 30,000 acres in Central Valley by 2030

It was a moment nearly 20 years in the making—fitting it took place on Earth Day—and River Partners has been there from the very beginning.

After leading the largest private-public floodplain restoration project in California history, River Partners joined dozens of others, including state and local leaders and conservation advocates, to formally dedicate River Partners’ historic 1,600-acre Dos Rios Ranch Preserve as California’s newest state park and open to the public June 12.

California natural-resource and conservation leaders are calling for 100,000 acres of critical river restoration throughout the Central Valley over the coming decades to support healthy ecosystems, water conservation, flood safety, sustainable agriculture, and the urgent recovery of populations of wildlife found nowhere else on Earth. Projects like Dos Rios demonstrate the power of nature-based solutions for California’s environment and communities in the face of a changing climate. By 2030, River Partners aims to acquire up to 30,000 acres of riverside lands—and double our pace of restoration—to build a more resilient future for the state.

Among those helping with the Earth Day dedication were California Governor Gavin Newsom, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, California State Parks Director Armando Quintero, California Secretary for Environmental Protection Yana Garcia, and labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, who grew up in nearby Stockton.

Watch the official livestream from the event:

“There’s no better way to spend Earth Day than celebrating California’s first new state park in nearly a decade,” said Governor Newsom. “The Golden State’s natural beauty is unmatched and we’re laser-focused on ensuring every Californian can enjoy these spaces. And the benefits don’t just stop at recreation – this park is a key asset to fighting the climate crisis, home to the state’s largest floodplain restoration project. We’re not just protecting these spaces, we’re restoring them for future generations.”

River Partners President Julie Rentner helps Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Sibel Newsom plant a ceremonial valley oak on Earth Day to dedicate the 1,600-acre Dos Rios Ranch that River Partners restored over the last decade as California’s newest state park in more than 10 years.

“Opening Dos Rios is a game changer,” said California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “It provides a beautiful riverfront destination for San Joaquin Valley residents to get outside and recreate, in a part of the state with few such places. It also provides a new model of a multi-benefit park that also reduces flood risk for local communities, provides a refuge for local residents during worsening heat waves, and restores the natural environment of the Central Valley to benefit local wildlife.”

“Dos Rios Ranch becoming a State Park is a leap forward in California’s and Governor Newsom’s bold vision for a vibrant, resilient future,” said River Partners President, Julie Rentner. “This ‘park of the future’ connects underserved Central Valley communities with an actionable model of scalable multi-benefit water solutions, where restored floodplains support water resilience for a hotter, drier future and flood safety for the nation’s most imperiled communities—all while bringing back wildlife from the brink of extinction.”

Located at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers just west of Modesto, Dos Rios Ranch Preserve provides a blueprint for future multi-benefit riverway restoration delivering water conservation and replenishment, wildlife habitat, and flood safety. But even up until 20 years ago, this property looked very different.

Thanks in part to the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers which converge in the heart of Dos Rios, the region flooded regularly, allowing water to sit and spread out on the land for extended periods of time, recharging the groundwater. But when land developers realized farming’s vast potential, the San Joaquin Valley and larger Central Valley was altered drastically.

The 1,600-acre Dos Rios Ranch Preserve near Modesto, the state’s largest public-private floodplain restoration project in history, became California’s newest state park in over a decade on Earth Day in April. Dos Rios is a model of multi-benefit riverway restoration exemplifying how we can work with nature, not against it, to improve flood safety, recharge groundwater, sequester carbon, and prevent wildlife from going extinct.

Dos Rios Ranch was a former dairy and cattle operation which also cultivated crops like almonds, tomatoes, grains, and forage mixes. A series of berms built by farmers in the 20th century attempted to keep Dos Rios dry from the surrounding rivers. Despite the berms, being in a historic floodplain, the property was vulnerable to frequent flooding. Between 1983–2007, the ranch flooded six times, about once every four years. In the historically wet winter of 2023, the property was flooded in water reaching as high as six feet for over four months.

After River Partners acquired Dos Rios Ranch in 2012, phased habitat restoration began the next year, driven by permitting and availability of public funding. In 2018, we began habitat restoration on 750 acres of the property’s primary floodplain. Gone are the farmer berms and commercial crops. In their place are native plants and grasses, roughly 1,000 acres of seasonally flooded lands, and imperiled species returning to their habitats, which we’ve caught glimpses of on our wildlife monitoring cameras.

We’ve seen the Swainson’s hawk, least Bell’s vireo, yellow warbler, sandhill crane, and the formerly endangered Aleutian Cackling Goose, among the birds which utilize the Pacific Flyway, a global migration corridor for birds that Dos Rios sits within. Returning home have been the riparian woodrat and the riparian brush rabbit, one of California’s most endangered mammals. Chinook salmon and steelhead trout have been documented spawning nearby. And we planted more than 12,000 milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants to help slow the decline of the Western monarch butterfly—part of the largest coordinated monarch restoration effort in the western United States.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the 1,600-acre project is a pocket in the preserve’s northeast corner—a Native Use Garden. Established in 2021, this three-acre garden features sedge, deergrass, dogbane, and other native plants used for basket weaving.

Dos Rios Ranch Preserve By the Numbers

1,600 acres restored
350,000+ trees and shrubs planted
8 river miles restored
9 priority species supported
7,000 acre-feet of fresh water retired
250 jobs created

Created in partnership with the California Indian Basketweavers’ Association and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, the Native Use Garden is protected with a federal use authorization from the Natural Resource Conservation Service for permanent Native use and access, shaping a new model for expanding Indigenous access to restored landscapes essential for cultural survival and renewal.

In 2020, River Partners received the Floodplain Management Association’s (FMA) Integrated Flood Management Award for the restoration and management of Dos Rios Ranch.

“The Dos Rios Ranch Preserve Project uses real-life lessons to guide restoration actions, supports local economies through job creation and competitive grants, and revitalizes our river landscapes for future generations,” said Supervising Engineer of Water Resources and FMA Awards Chair Ricardo Pineda, who also noted the projects’ consistency with the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan’s Conservation Strategy and its dual goals of increasing flood protection and protecting and restoring important ecosystems.

Dos Rios Ranch would not been possible without the deep and generous engagement from public and private funding partners at the local, state, and national levels, including: (federal) the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; (state) California Dept. of Water Resources, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, California Natural Resources Agency, California State Parks, California Wildlife Conservation Board; (local) San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Stanislaus County Public Works Department, Tuolumne River Trust; (private) the Firedoll Foundation, Mape’s Ranch, New Belgium Brewing Company, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Resources Legacy Fund, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and the Volgenau Foundation.

River Partners’ efforts over more than a decade at Dos Rios Ranch Preserve involved transforming 1,600 acres of former farmland into native riverway habitat by planting over 350,000 native trees and vegetation along eight miles of river.

River Partners and Dos Rios Ranch have created the leading example of multi-benefit riverway restoration that results in big wins for healthy ecosystems and resilient communities. From biodiversity and climate adaptation to groundwater recharge and public health benefits, Dos Rios Ranch is the gold standard for statewide restoration projects to come, particularly in the Central Valley. Armando Quintero, California Department of Parks and Recreation Director, called Dos Rios Ranch “a park of the future.”

“The vision for Dos Rios is a journey into the past, revealing a lush Central Valley and a local escape – adjacent to two rivers and a wildlife refuge,” said Quintero. “State Parks is committed to ensuring access for all Californians as we collaboratively craft this park alongside the public, tribal partners, and stakeholders for a healthier natural environment close to home.”

The new state park at Dos Rios Ranch officially opens to the public on June 12. Click here for more information.

Banner photo credit: Austin Stevenot