The Woodbridge Wilderness Area may be open additional days this year if it doesn't put a major dent in San Joaquin County's pocketbook.
The Board of Supervisors postponed a decision on Tuesday about whether to open the wilderness area more often until parks administrators provide an estimate of the cost for the county to staff the wilderness area on alternate weekends. The issue is scheduled to come back to the board on March 26 or in April.
Since 2011, volunteers led by Mary Fuhs of Acampo and Mary Avanti of Woodbridge have staffed the entry gate. The wilderness area was open one weekend per month from June through December 2011, and on the first and third weekend from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all of last year.
Fuhs told supervisors on Tuesday that she'd like the wilderness area to be open 365 days a year, though she said she'd be willing to compromise to fewer days. About 50 volunteers cover the 48 days the wilderness area is currently open.
Fuhs said that volunteers are willing to continue their work on the first and third weekends, but a group called Friends of the Woodbridge Wilderness Area is asking the county to staff the 17-acre grounds the other two weekends between May and October.
"I like the idea of compromise, because of the credibility the volunteers have earned," Supervisor Steve Bestolarides said.
The wilderness area, located behind the Del Rio and River Meadows subdivisions between Woodbridge Road and the south bank of the Mokelumne River, is a popular location for hiking, bird watching and fishing. The entrance is at the north end of Meadowlark Drive.
However, it doesn't have the amenities that other county parks offer. There are no picnic areas, barbecue pits or restrooms.
The wilderness area was closed to the public after a fire scorched the trees and other plant life in September 2008, first due to safety concerns and then because of budget cuts.
Several years ago, River Meadows residents complained about wilderness area visitors partying and littering in and near their front yards, but Fuhs and Avanti maintain that many of those problems went away once volunteers began staffing the entrance and helped trim brush on the grounds.
Eileen Dugan, a 24-year River Meadows resident, said she'd like to keep the wilderness area open more than two weekends a month.
"I don't expect those (volunteers) to work like slaves out there," Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller said.
Ruhstaller asked Karam if it was possible to have county workers conduct a spring cleaning annually. Karam replied that he will arrange for county workers to clean up the area each spring, because the cost would be minimal.
Ruhstaller and other supervisors, however, declined to approve reopening the wilderness area additional weekends until they know that it won't be too costly for the county.
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