After considerable debate Tuesday night, the San Joaquin County Parks and Recreation Commission voted 5-2 to request opening the Woodbridge Wilderness Area every weekend from May through October.
The county-owned wilderness area, located between Woodbridge Road and the Mokelumne River in the River Meadows subdivision, has been open the past three years on the first and third weekends of each month as volunteers staff the entry gate.
The commission has no authority to open or close the wilderness area. Its vote merely constitutes a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which will make the final decision.
Several Woodbridge residents spoke on the issue at Tuesday's meeting at Micke Grove Park. Some supported expanding public hours at the wilderness area, while others complained about rowdy users.
Advocates and opponents of expanding the wilderness area's hours agreed that commissioners Mary Fuhs and Mary Avanti have done a great job volunteering their services on alternate weekends. They staff the entry gate, help trim brush and maintain a walking trail.
However, some neighborhood residents object to a lack of parking near the entrance. Gary Allen, who lives near the wilderness area, suggested that entrances be added to two nearby subdivisions, Del Rio and Winwood.
Joshua Hutchison, who grew up in Woodbridge and now lives in Lodi, acknowledged the parking problem, but says the wilderness area isn't given the treatment it deserves from the county.
"It's not being treated like a park," Hutchison said. "It's being treated like an albatross."
Known originally as Woodbridge Regional Park, the county acquired the 17-acre property on Dec. 17, 1985, when the county accepted a grant deed from George and Rosemary Ferrero. The stipulation was that it was to be used as a public park.
The name was changed to Woodbridge Wilderness Area in early 2005 to make it clear that the area doesn't have any actual park services, such as picnic tables, barbecues and restrooms.
One resident asked how people can enjoy the wilderness area when it doesn't have a restroom.
"There never will be a restroom," commission chairwoman Mary Mitracos said.
Commissioner Mary Avanti said there isn't much of a restroom problem because the average wilderness area visitor is there for only about two hours.
"Give us more (hours) and give us a chance to show what we can do," Avanti said. "If it doesn't work, shut it down."
Fuhs agreed to what commissioners considered a compromise — to keep the wilderness area open every weekend, with Fuhs arranging for volunteers to serve on the first and third weekends between May and October. The other two weekends would be staffed by either sheriff's cadets or a part-time county employee.
Fuhs, Avanti, Mitracos and commissioners William Fry and George Muraoka supported the recommendation, while commissioners Jerry Sexton and Lois Sahyoun opposed it.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.