The old Tidewater Southern Railway corridor slicing through the heart of Manteca for years served as a magnet for the homeless, criminal activity, and those illegally dumping garbage.
It was an open sore of barren patches of dirt intermixed with weeds where fences occasionally would serve as tumbleweed catchers. That was in 1994.
Fast forward 20 years.
Today the abandoned Tidewater right of way bought by the city in 1979 consists of:
• A 3.4-mile bike path stretching from Industrial Park Drive to Lathrop Road complete with benches and water fountains.
• Roughly 34 acres of greenbelt, with much of it lined with trees and shrubs.
• A skate park.
• An entrance plaza with benches and an unfinished kiosk on Yosemite Avenue.
• A portion of the expanded Library Park.
• The Manteca Transit Station that doubles as a community hall.
• A storm retention basin along Moffat that doubles as a mini-park.
And come November a sliver of the former right-of-way between the 120 Bypass bridge and Industrial Park Drive that everyone assumed would remain barren will be home to the 3,200-square-foot Moffat Boulevard Community Center that will be leased to the Manteca Veterans of Foreign Wars post complete with 60 parking spaces.
The idea to take the 3.4-mile swath that cut through the middle of Manteca and turn it into a bike path was offensive to more than a few folks at the time.
Some argued that it would simply breed more trouble and that the “frequent” street crossings — there are seven in 3.4 miles — would lead to tragic consequences of mixing traffic with bicyclists at various cross streets.
Then there were those that argued that it should be some type of “expressway” to make it easier for people to travel across Manteca in their cars.
Elected leaders stayed the course. Naturally many panned the original asphalt noting how “ugly” and uninviting it was. It didn’t help things that a dispute with the contractor delayed Manteca accepting the bike path after it was done for more than a year. As a result tumbleweeds choked the 34 acres. The city did not abate the weeds themselves because technically that would have meant they were accepting the project as completed. That would have left city taxpayers saddled with costly corrections to the project.
It got so bizarre that at one point the fire chief at the time was threatening to issue a citation to the mayor for failing to abate weeds.
That was followed by another misstep in the form of an almost new but dysfunctional water well pump that failed. It required parts that were not readily available just as the weather started heating up. The result was a large swath of landscaping died.
Today those miscues are behind the city. In addition, the strength of the Crossroads Grace Community Church’s effort to serve the community allowed the city to plant hundreds of trees along the Moffat leg of the Tidewater that had been barren for years except for the occasional tumbleweed.
The Tidewater today stands as a shining example of Manteca’s visionary thinking as well as follow through. Yes, it’s been a long road but things cost money. There are those who would slam the city for not making improvements faster but Manteca has made almost all of the improvements without impacting the general fund. Measure K sales tax earmarked for such endeavors picked up the bulk of the tab once the city had acquired the 34 acres.
The Tidewater is more than just a bike path used by walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. It is a linear park with large sections maturing nicely with landscaping.
It is unusual when it comes to most bike paths in California as it actually goes to places that people access in their everyday lives, which gives it more depth than just being a recreational facility.
Its location cutting through the heart of the city allows people in neighborhoods to use it to access the library and downtown. Thanks to extensions you can also reach newer retail in Spreckels Park, plus places like Woodward Park.
The Tidewater is the spine of what ultimately will be a 20.6-mile loop of Manteca. That loop also has the potential for a number of spurs such as Wellington Avenue that reaches Woodard Park as well as Spreckels Avenue to reach Target and other retail.
No longer is the Tidewater scorned as a boondoggle like it was by some when it was completed 15 years ago.
It is the heaviest used park in Manteca when it comes to non-organized activities, ranging from walking and jogging to bicycling and skateboarding.
As Manteca grows, so will the separated bike path system that the Tidewater serves as the backbone.
The Tidewater — without a doubt — is an urban renewal success story.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.