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Will rural Manteca go way of buffalo?
“Let’s moo-ve on,” the kind-looking cow seems to be saying to the visiting egret. This is also one of a series of photos taken during one wet early morning a few years ago in a field just north of Fig Avenue on Union Road. A dozen or so egrets found the wet fields fertile grounds for breakfast fare. The avian visitors were welcomed by their bovine hosts. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
I do not own any property in any of the areas that would be affected by the proposed Mckinley Avenue Expressway in rural south Manteca.

So I don’t have any vested interest in the project.

But I do have an “artistic” and “personal” vested interest in this rustic and bucolic area which is practically in the backyard of urbanized Manteca where I happen to live.

A good part of my private photographic portfolio consists of subjects taken around the fields, almond and walnut orchards and dairy farms south of Woodward Avenue between the outskirts of Ripon to the east and Turtle Beach to the west, as well as the riparian habitats along the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers.

During the New Year’s floods of 1997, I took hundreds of photographs around these inundated areas: Two Rivers Road, Division Road, Avenue D, Trahern Road, Williamson Road past the former Oakwood Lake Resort toward the Turtle Beach residential enclave made famous by the flood-stranded Flo the Cow, and yes, Fig Avenue. At Division Road just east of South Airport Way, a family that owned a three-level house overlooking a vineyard allowed me to join them onto the roof of their home that they had just evacuated. From that high vantage point, we watched while the waters from the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Rivers rushed into the fields below. The house was on higher ground.

At Trahern, I joined several anxious residents in the middle of the road just west of South Manteca Road where many were busy sandbagging critical areas while others, like the members of the Hahn family, looked on with concern. I still have pictures of the very photogenic and cute Hahn daughters (Becky was one of them, but the name of the other girl escapes me at the moment) posing for me with the flood waters in the background.

One of the most memorable assignments I had during the anxiety-laden flood months took place at Fig Avenue. At its height, the flood waters went up three feet inside the homes in this neighborhood. One of the homeowners who were greatly affected was Rosemary Marty. So much so that her home, when the waters have subsided to just above the ankle, was visited by Senator Dianne Feinstein, then Congressman Richard Pombo, and then Assemblyman Mike Machado to view firsthand the extent of the devastation. Feinstein and Machado braved the very soggy front yard of Marty and went inside the house to assess the damage – newly installed plush wall-to-wall carpeting turned into a thick carpet of mud, waterlogged walls, plus a back-yard pool filled with floating debris and a badly cracked driveway. The destruction was so severe that when they renovated the house, the Martys had to build the frame up again.

“Thank God for insurance,” a relieved Marty said at that time.

As for Pombo not wanting to go inside her water-logged and muddy house, she said, “Maybe he didn’t want to get his shoes wet, who knows?”

I had to dig out the article that I wrote at the time, and that’s where I lifted those quotes by Marty. One of the tragic stories I gathered during that assignment concerned the Martys’ next-door neighbor which was also severely affected by the flood waters that inundated the properties for months. The neighbors did not have any flood insurance at all and had to rely on emergency loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get back on their feet. The family later moved to the East Coast but Marty was not sure if the destructive floods had anything to do with their decision to leave the area.

Marty said at that time that in the 28 years she has lived at her countryside property, she had never seen flood waters come up that far north. On the bright side, that made her and other property owners here more aware of the sudden turns in the weather during winter.

“The thought (of another flood) crosses all our minds out here. Once you’ve been through something like that, you don’t forget that easy,” Marty said. “Some of my friends even use water gauges to measure water when it rains.”

The area between the 120 Bypass and Woodward Avenue on Union Road was another favorite place of mine to take photographs. The attraction: the buffaloes in the Steves family’s fields and the almond orchards to the north and east of the property. The buffaloes were in an enclosed corral. The Steves used a cyclone fence so one could easily take pictures of the animals grazing through it. If you were lucky, you could take pictures of the buffaloes having breakfast in peaceful co-existence with magpies, chickens and brave black birds. At this time of the year, your pictures of the buffaloes would have been juxtaposed with the delicate almond blossoms in the background. Needless to say, I had plenty of that winter tableaux.

The place where the buffaloes roamed is now Atherton Drive and part of the residential subdivision on the south side and the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley parking lot on the north side.