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River access opens up story-telling and natural wonders

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Posted: Saturday, November 19, 2011 4:27 pm | Updated: 6:28 am, Mon Nov 21, 2011.

A young, brown-haired boy clumped together a ball of mud in his hand, twisting and turning it to form the perfect mold before lifting it above his head and chucking it with a loud "ker-plop" into the Mokelumne River.

The boy's father sat on a log not far away, watching his son play on the banks of the river, which are directly adjacent to the now-open Woodbridge Wilderness Area.

And while the area has only been open once a month since June, San Joaquin County Parks and Recreation commissioner Mary Fuhs, of Acampo, said that so far things have been going very smoothly.

Fuhs said she knew that opening the wilderness area would bring some opposition, but that despite the ongoing controversy surrounding access to the Mokelumne River, people have generally had nothing but positive remarks about re-opening the area to visitors.

With roughly 120 visitors every weekend the area is open, and with countless species of birds and trees in the area, Fuhs said it is a wilderness lover's paradise.

"This is an education process for us," she said. "When we started clearing the area a year ago, trash was a problem, but fortunately it has become less and less. We have become more aware of different species of trees and animals, and we have learned just how important this area is for birds who stop here to rest during their migration."

Clean-up crews still visit the area once every month, including the Woodbridge Fire Explorers on Saturday. The Central Valley Bird Symposium also frequents the area to catalog how many species of birds live in the 16-acre area.

Fuhs added that there have been those who have been opposed to re-opening the area, saying illegal parking and noise are already an issue.

Neighbors to the wilderness area may also want to keep the river access open to only themselves, Fuhs and volunteer Steve Scott, a retired cross country coach for Lodi High School, said.

But, Fuhs said only one issue has taken place since the park opened where someone received a citation for letting their dog walk off its leash in the wilderness area. Parking problems have been at a minimum, she said.

"This river belongs to everyone; this is everyone's space," Scott said. "It should be shared."

Scott added that the area, which has not only been cleaned up in terms of trash but also had trees and bushes trimmed, was and still is a great place for people to run and walk.

He laughed when he admitted that he used to sneak into the area for a good run, and that now that the area is open, it will not only be a good place for exercise, but a good place to come and simply listen to the birds chirping, insects buzzing and the soft trickle of the river as it lightly splashes against its muddy banks.

"The best part about opening this place back up is to hear the stories that people tell about what they have seen and what they have heard," Fuhs said as she examined a tree trunk that had been gnawed by a beaver. "These wonderful experiences that people tell you about from just being here once a month — you don't really get much of that anymore. It's such a joy."

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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