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Ripon offers relaxing forays away from the daily bustle

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A walker makes his way down Jack Tone Road under a canopy of blossoms.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED March 8, 2013 1:38 a.m.

Ripon is made for walkers.

Extensive tree-lined streets make it a pleasure during the depth of summer to walk morning and evening. Adding to the pleasure are the friendly people you tend to encounter on streets that are quiet by most standards.

Perhaps there is no better time to enjoy Ripon’s small-town setting integrated heavily with nature than now. The almond blossoms are just the start in a succession of sensory delights as nature slowly awakens from its winter slumber.

And there’s no place better than to enjoy the riparian woodland than the trails along the Stanislaus River.

It’s a surprise to find there are people in Ripon who’ve never explored the riverside woodlands. My granddaughter Ashley even at age 20 likes to spend time exploring what nature has to offer. She got hooked on riverside excursions when she was living in Ripon years ago. The same is true for myself when we lived for nine months on North Ripon Road and made it a point to do at least one walk a week in Ripon.

It took foresight not just to preserve the woodlands but for a city to actually make it easy to access. You can look around at scores of other valley cities on various rivers. Accessing the river isn’t easy or pleasant in many communities nor is it an activity that many seem to partake

That all changed for Ripon when city leaders imported the pedestrian bridge  from Alabama a number of years back to place over the Stanislaus River. Not only did it open safer bicycle access to Stanislaus County - bicyclists used to be able to pedal on the Highway 99 shoulder from Main Street to Hammett Road - but it also created a pleasant stroll for walkers of all ages.

There is a small parking lot that can be accessed by turning off Main Street by the perfect backdrop for photos – the Mistlin Foundation – onto Parallel Avenue to go right to the parking lot.

The paved trail is stripped for bicycle use so the basic rules apply – walkers on the right and bicyclists pass on the left with polite warnings. The gentle drop down to the bridge is easy to navigate. Once on the bridge, you get a nice view of riparian woodland and can enjoy the textures of the water passing below. Granted, the view to the west could be a bit better but a freeway is a freeway. It doesn’t take long before you’re lost in the magic of nature. You’ll find yourself pausing for long periods on the bridge which has a cyclone fence attached to the trusses for added protection.

You can continue south into Stanislaus County if you wish but most walkers undoubtedly will be tempted to head toward the slight hill on the north side and take one of two dirt trails. Ultimately, you could reach Ripon’s Mavis Stouffer Park if you’re adventuresome. But you don’t have to go far until you can come to a quiet spot on the river’s edge where you can enjoy the timeless pastime of tossing sticks, leaves and rocks into the river.

On the main trails you will encounter mountain bikers from time-to-time, but when you head toward the river’s edge, the path is a bit precarious leaving the two wheelers behind.

If you opt to bicycle into Salida, the bike path dumps out at the start of Pierrone Road which will eventually take you to Highway 132 by the Union 76 station near Blue Diamond Growers. This is the somewhat safer route but I personally prefer crossing the freeway and heading down Hammett Road to bicycle among almond orchards and farms to the west between Salida and the San Joaquin River.

There are chemical bathrooms near the parking lot. You will have to bring your own water, though, whether you stick to walking by the river or venture by bicycle toward Salida.

The bridge was made possible by Measure K sales tax funding that is the quarter cent you pay on all transactions in San Joaquin County to fund transportation projects.

Prior to Measure K, bicyclists and pedestrians were allowed to cross the river on the Highway 99 freeway shoulder because the only other crossing into Stanislaus County from San Joaquin County was McHenry Avenue out of Escalon.

Besides making the trek into Stanislaus County via bicycle or on foot safer, the bridge effectively serves as an icon to remind Ripon residents of the riparian gem they can enjoy without having to head out of town.

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