FRESNO — Little by little, parts of the San Joaquin River Parkway are becoming more accessible to the public.
And there appears to have been plenty of pent-up demand.
More than 200 cars paid the $6 entry fee into Ball Ranch last weekend as anglers clamored to access an old quarry pond that had been off-limits to fishing since the 1980s.
"We were not prepared for that at all, but it was good to see," said Sharon Weaver, deputy director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.
"We've had a lot of people come out and say, 'I remember this place and just wanted to see it again.' A lot of people are really happy about it being open again."
Ball Ranch, open only on weekends, isn't alone. Sycamore Island, located on the Madera County side of the river, welcomes anglers Friday through Sunday.
And starting March 16, Camp Pashayan will reopen for the first time since 2010. Located just north of Herndon Avenue and just east Highway 99, the 31-acre ecological reserve provides bank fishing as well as convenient river access for canoes and kayaks.
All three properties are owned by the San Joaquin River Conservancy, the state agency charged with assembling the 22-mile parkway from Friant to Highway 99, and managed by the nonprofit River Parkway Trust.
"Basically, the combination of having these three properties open will earn enough in gate fees to pay for our staff to be out here," Weaver said Tuesday while giving a tour of Ball Ranch.
"That's the key. We can't just open the gates and let it be. We've got to have people on site at all times." The main attraction at Ball Ranch is a 20-acre pond surrounded by willows, box elders, and cottonwoods. There is no river access.
Largemouth bass were planted at some point. A 9-pounder reportedly was caught during the first weekend of March, and a couple more big fish could be seen rising at dusk.
In the future, Ball Ranch will receive rainbow trout from the Department of Fish and Wildlife as the agency begins to phase out trout stocking in the San Joaquin so they don't compete with salmon.
"It'll happen," said Greg Kollenborn, the DFW senior hatcheries supervisor. "It's just a matter of time and going through all our protocols."
Facilities at Ball Ranch include two portable toilets and a wash basin. Visitors have also utilized an old dirt road near the back of the pond as a ramp for small fishing boats powered by trolling motors.
Ball Ranch and Sycamore Island are currently open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those hours could be expanded in accordance with daylight savings time.
Location: Take Friant Road north out of Fresno. Pass Willow Road and Cemex then turn left at the gate immediately past the bridge over the dry creek bed
Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fees: $6 per car, plus $5 for trailers
SYCAMORE ISLAND Location: Madera County side of river off Avenue 7 1/2
Hours: Friday to Sunday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fees: $9 per car, plus $5 for trailers ($4 discounted entry during the last 90 minutes)
CAMP PASHAYAN Location: Take Herndon Avenue to Weber Avenue, turn north and go about 1 mile
Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (starting March 16) Fees: $6 per car, plus $5 for trailers
Details: www.riverparkway.org or (559) 248-8480