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Transformation: From barren to blooming
Trees are in bloom along sections of the Tidewater Bike Path - photo by HIME ROMERO
The daffodils are in bloom and the trees are budding as spring approaches for the 12th time since the Tidewater Bike Path replaced the former barren and weed-infested abandoned right-of-way of its namesake railroad.

The 3.4-mile Tidewater is unique among city parks and area bike trails. It encompasses just over 35 acres between Lathrop Road in the north and Industrial Park Drive in the south making it Manteca’s second largest park.

It is the only Northern San Joaquin Valley bike path that accesses a downtown and that you can take to reach various public venues along its path including three municipal parks (Library, Northgate and Walnut Place), the library, the BMX park, and the skate park.

It ties into an additional 1.5 miles of existing separate bike paths that it connects with including Spreckels Park Bike Path, Industrial Park Drive, Van Ryn Avenue, Atherton Drive and Wellington Avenue. An additional segment will be built in Union Ranch East in the coming months that will eventually tie into the northern terminus that is now at Lathrop Road and an existing segment that runs through Del Webb at Woodbridge. There are also segments in place on Atherton Drive in front of The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley and near Airport Way.

Eventually 20.5 miles of separated bike path will loop the city. Unlike the initial 3.4 miles, future segments will be required to be built by the private sector as land is developed. The maintenance costs will be covered by those owning property in landscape maintenance districts that cover landscaping and parks in the future neighborhoods it will pass through.

It gets extensive used by walkers, joggers, and bicyclists.

It was just 13 years ago that the right-of-way was a haven for the homeless, vandals, and those who wanted to dump trash creating a scar down the middle of the city.

The Tidewater Bike Path - named in honor of the former Tidewater Southern Railroad that operated trains into Manteca as late as 1983 was dedicated in 2002.

The first railroad was the Southern Pacific that provided the vital transit link to ship milk to San Francisco and produce and sugar to the East Coast markets.

The Tidewater Southern was launched in 1912 with the idea of providing a second route to Southern California to compete with the Southern Pacific. That dream, however, was never realized as only 33 of the envisioned 150 miles were built.

The main line opened to freight service in October of 1912 from Taylor Street in Stockton to Modesto. Overhead catenary electrification of the main line began in May of 1913 and was completed in November of that year to allow the running of three green interurban cars.

The Tidewater during its operations ran steam, electric and diesel engines.

The Modesto to Turlock segment was completed in July 1916 while the eight miles from Hatch, located west of Turlock to Hilmar was finished in July 1917. The 6.6-mile branch line to Manteca went into operation by May of 1918.

The new Manteca line brought freight and passenger service the same year the city was incorporated.

The Modesto to Stockton trip was scheduled at an hour and 45 minutes. This topped the competing Southern Pacific whose passenger trains were on a four-hour availability and required 15 to 30 minutes of travel between the two cities.

The interurban service ended in 1932 but the railroad lived on. Western Pacific obtained it as a feeder line while Union Pacific took control in 1983 when it acquired the Western Pacific.

The Southern Pacific and Tidewater tracks ran parallel in Manteca from a point midway between Alameda Street and Center Street to Spreckels Road.

There were eight fruit packing sheds at one time along the stretch of competing railroads.

The Tidewater main line is still part of the Union Pacific system and is used extensively in the Modesto area. The San Joaquin County portion of the line that runs from Escalon along Highway 120 and then up French Camp Road to the Ace Tomato packing shed before heading north into Stockton is still used to occasionally move agricultural products.

Manteca purchased the 3.4-mile section of the Tidewater right-of-way within the city limits to create the bike path and a 35-acre urban green belt.