The Woodbridge Wilderness Area, which was open one weekend a month on a trial basis in 2011, will be open to the public two weeks a month this year.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 on Tuesday to expand public hours to the first and third weekend of each month, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Supervisor Leroy Ornellas was absent because he was representing the county at another meeting.
It was unclear Tuesday whether the extended hours will begin in February or March.
The 17-acre wilderness area was staffed by volunteers while being open on a trial basis on the third weekend of each month since June. A total of 119 volunteers from the Audubon Society and Friends of the Woodbridge Wilderness Area worked a combined 441 labor-hours in 2011, according to Gabe Karam, director of the county’s General Services Department.
Acampo resident Mary Fuhs said that she and Mary Avanti, of Woodbridge, are willing to organize the volunteers, who staff the entrance gate, take the names of people entering the park in case they have to be reported to authorities for any wrongdoing they may commit in the wilderness area. Volunteers at the entrance also inform visitors of rules.
“The model we’ve had with the volunteers seems to be a model that has worked,” Supervisor Ken Vogel said.
Supervisors approved the extended public hours despite opposition by some neighbors.
“The issue of supervision still hasn’t been addressed,” said Christian Phillips, who lives near the wilderness area.
Volunteers have done a good job enforcing county rules for the wilderness area, Joshua Hutchison, who lives in Lodi’s Park West neighborhood, told the Board of Supervisors. For example, they’ve turned away people who were smoking cigarettes, Hutchison added.
Cigarette smoking is prohibited in the wilderness area because of the fire danger.
Ray Cuenca, whose home in the Del Rio subdivision backs up to the wilderness area, said he is mostly concerned about visitor supervision after they walk through the entrance. What if a smaller-sized volunteer is confronted by a large man who has consumed a couple of beers, Cuenca asked rhetorically in an interview after the board meeting.
Phillips added that any movement to have large groups should be delayed. Volunteers said that Woodbridge Elementary School may be interested in including the flora and fauna within the wilderness area in its curriculum, Karam said.
“It would be limited to one class at a time,” Fuhs responded. “I would probably be the one giving the tour.”
The county-owned wilderness area was closed after a fire ravaged the area in September 2008. Several homes were threatened.
The wilderness area was initially closed due to fire safety reasons, but the Board of Supervisors kept it closed for almost three years because fiscal constraints kept the county from maintaining and patrolling the area.
Now it is the volunteers and Woodbridge firefighters who patrol the area.
“I don’t know where the liability starts and ends,” Phillips told the board.
Fuhs replied, “The county has the responsibility to keep it open to the public.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.