A small crowd gathered Friday morning on the bluff overlooking the Serene Plane next to the Tuolumne River to officially mark the opening of the Lower Terrace at Ceres River Bluff Regional Park.
The public can now use the park during the day for walks, hikes, bird watching, picnicking, and launching kayaks into the river. Since the lower terrace has only five parking spaces, including one reserved for people with reduced mobility, many users will probably end up taking the path down the slope to access the park.
The event marked the end of park development, an effort that began in 2000 when city parks and recreation manager Doug Lemcke led the town of Ceres to purchase the 76-acre park site from east of River Oaks Golf Course for $1.05. million.
A cliff divides the park in two with the 38 acres at ground level to Hatch Road which now houses football pitches, parking lots and a concession stand; and the 38-acre “lower terrace” along the Tuolumne River.
City Manager Alex Terrazas said he was amazed when he first saw the park after he was hired in 2021 and saw it “as a kind of oasis in the middle of our city for people …to come and enjoy with ponds and walking paths and just space to enjoy the quiet – if that’s also what you’re looking for.”
Mayor Javier Lopez said the park is a beautiful place.
“This is a great opportunity for us to embrace what we have and perfect it after all the issues we had before this opening,” Mayor Lopez said.
Vice Mayor Bret Silveira made some brief remarks, singling out Lou Toste for his 40-year commitment to Ceres Youth Soccer, which was instrumental in creating the top terrace for soccer.
“We have so much momentum in Ceres right now with growth and development and things like the opening of this park and the future opening of Guillermo Ochoa Park,” Silveira said. “There’s so much momentum right now for people to come and raise their families in Ceres.”
A ribbon-cutting photo opportunity took place after local authorities dispatched representatives with certificates of congratulations.
Over the past two decades, the city has slowly returned the lower terrace’s use of the walnut orchard to its original state, where the public could stroll among native plants, trees, and wildlife.
In 2006, the city dedicated a small portion of the park as a memorial for slain Police Sergeant Ceres. Howard Stevenson.
No one was happier than Brandy Meyer, who represents the town of Ceres on the Tuolumne River Regional Park Citizens Advisory Committee.
“The river has a special place in my heart,” Meyer said. “I’ve been on this committee for over 10 years, I’ve watched this park grow for many of those years, although he’s not technically on this committee yet.”
She said that as a troop leader with her husband, she led Boy Scout clean-up projects and laid the bark for the Howard Stevenson Memorial near the riverfront.
“I’m extremely, extremely happy to be here today and to see all the faces and the support,” Meyer said.
“I know a lot of people were complaining, ‘when is it going to open? When is it going to open? And now it’s open and we can all enjoy it.
A number of small Cessnas flew overhead at nearby Modesto Airport as officials gathered to cut the ribbon and survey the area. Shortly after, a skein of Canada geese landed on the lagoon water.
Restoration work included the formation of a wetland lagoon and the planting of native vegetative species such as valley oak and poplars.
Now a sanctuary for herons and egrets, the local Audobon society has occasionally used the lower terrace for birdwatching.