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Woodbridge Wilderness Area to open one weekend a month

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Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 12:34 pm | Updated: 2:55 pm, Wed May 25, 2011.

The Woodbridge Wilderness Area, closed to the public since a devastating fire in 2008, will be open on a trial basis on the third weekend of each month from June through December.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow volunteers from the Audubon Society and the Woodbridge community to supervise the wilderness area, located in the River Meadows subdivision along the south bank of the Mokelumne River.

The 17-acre wilderness area has been closed since a devastating fire threatened homes in September 2008. It was initially closed due to fire safety reasons, but the Board of Supervisors kept it closed the past two fiscal years because fiscal constraints kept the county from maintaining and patrolling the area.

The Audubon Society will conduct a bird count from 8 to 10 a.m. on June 18 and monthly after that. The wilderness area will then be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 18 and 19. Volunteers will staff the entrance, share information on the bird count, plants and animals in the area and inform visitors about rules for the area.

The wilderness area has nature trails, but it doesn’t have basic park amenities like picnic areas and restrooms. Bonfires and campfires are not permitted due to fire danger.

Volunteers will record the names of visitors along with their time of arrival and departure, County Parks and Recreation Director Craig Ogata said. When the wilderness area closes at 4 p.m., volunteers will provide the county Sheriff’s Office with the names of anyone who hasn’t left the park in case there’s any vandalism or illegal activity, Ogata said.

Ogata recommended in March that the wilderness area remain closed for another year due to the continuing drain on the county budget, but supervisors asked him to allow visitors during a time when volunteers were there anyway, helping clear the area of flammable vegetation that is close to homes in the area.

“I hope this will be a model for a more controlled use of this facility,” Supervisor Ken Vogel said.

Kathy Nelson-Knight, who has lived near the wilderness area entrance with her husband, Morris, for 20 years, said that visitors illegally enter the area, sometimes from the north side of the Mokelumne River. People swim, fish, drink, party and leave their trash behind, she said. Some trees are being damaged by rope swings, she added.

Nelson-Knight said the wilderness area should be open to the public, but it should be supervised at all times.

“The wilderness area is being used as a restroom,” she said.

A retired second-grade teacher from the Lincoln Unified School District in Stockton, Nelson-Knight advised conducting organized field trips to educate students. She was a docent for the Lodi Lake Nature Area, and she said she would be willing to do the same in Woodbridge.

Ogata said he will report to the Board of Supervisors in January how the trial opening worked.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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