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Mantecas crown jewel bought for $1
Teens make their way to the Woodward Park storm retention basin where four of the parks soccer fields are located. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Don’t underestimate the value of a dollar.

It took just one George Washington for the City of Manteca to purchase 52 acres of almond orchards that eventually were converted into Woodward Park.

The community park that is everything from a major regional soccer complex and ground zero for the West Coast’s largest Memorial Day weekend commemoration to a popular jogging and picnic locale just marked its 10th year in late October.

A year after Woodward Park was completed, the city opened its second community park — the 30-acre Big League Dreams sports complex that generated funds to make additional improvements at Woodward Park through a 35-year private sector lease agreement.

The mayor at the time of the dedication of Woodward Park — Willie Weatherford — credited former councilman Jack Snyder and a Manteca-based development team led then by Mike Atherton with making Woodward Park possible. Weatherford also described Woodward Park as “the crown jewel” of Manteca’s park system.

Snyder and Atherton agreed on a vision for a community park and then hammered out a dollar deal nearly 25 years ago for the land valued at the time in excess of $750,000. In addition Atherton made another unorthodox move — he insisted Atherton Homes pay the prevailing park development fee when the firm built homes on the surrounding land. The gesture was unheard of since developers typically want to be given credit against park fees for the value of land they set aside for parks.

Atherton in an interview several years ago noted he understood the city lacked funds to develop the community park as envisioned. He even went a step further having his firm for pay for periodic weed abatement for years on the 52 acres that were then owned by the city but not developed.

 Today — thanks to fast draining sandy loam soil and lighted playing fields as well as Manteca’s central location to the Bay Area and Sacramento — Woodward Park has turned into a center for regional and state soccer tournaments as well as hosting Manteca leagues.

It has two playground areas including one featuring Manteca’s tallest slide at 30 feet.

There is a covered picnic area, outdoor exercise stations, bathrooms and two parking lots.

A decade ago there was talk of eventually building tennis courts near the Woodward Avenue entrance and either an amphitheater, youth baseball fields with lighting and concessions/restrooms, or both in the park’s 10-acre storm retention basin.