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Trails, woods & river offer pleasant walks
The Ripon pedestrian bridge crossing the Stanislaus River is visible from Highway 99. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
RIPON - You don’t have to travel far for a peaceful woodland stroll along the river.

Ripon’s Stanislaus River Park recreation area is a textbook example of the right way to develop urban access to nature without leaving a city.

Aside from Caswell State Park at the southern end of Austin Road that charges admission, the Ripon recreation area is the closest spot to Manteca to go walking in a natural wooded area by the river without paying or trespassing. It is located just seven miles south of Manteca and visible from busy Highway 99.

The addition of the pedestrian bridge that was imported from Alabama and placed over the Stanislaus River not only opened safer bicycle access to Stanislaus County but created a pleasant stroll for walkers of all ages.

There is a small parking lot that can be accessed by taking the Main Street exit off southbound Highway 99 in Ripon. Turn left to go over the freeway and once you reach the stop sign by the Shell station, turn left and then quickly turn right onto Parallel Avenue. That will take you 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 form 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 just after crossing the river 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.

If you opt to bicycle from Manteca to Ripon and aren’t an experienced cyclist, stay off Austin Road and Union Road. The long way would be to go Airport Way (fast traffic but wide shoulders) to West Ripon Road and then head east (wide shoulders) in to Ripon where the road turns into Main Street and leads to the Main Street overpass.

The shorter way is to take Moffat Boulevard to Austin Road where you will cross the freeway to the Frontage Road and head south. The roads to that point have narrow shoulders so be careful. Once on Frontage Road, you will find traffic is light and visibility clear making it a safer bet as long as you stay to the right. Once in Ripon, keep hugging the freeway as you make your way to interchanges and you’ll eventually run into Parallel Avenue and the bridge.

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 as the only other crossing into Stanislaus County from San Joaquin County was McHenry Avenue out of Escalon.