Oakhurst is a town with a lengthy historic past as a settlement of both indians and, later in the 1800s, settlers who were either on the quest for gold, or visitation to the mysterious and awe inspiring Yosemite National Park, which was deeded to the State of California by Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864. (Yosemite became a National Park on On October 1, 1890).
By 1890 in fact, Fresno Flats was already bustling with tourists and gold miners, offering a hotel, a restaurant, a saloon, a Chinese store, a Chinese laundry, a post office, a stage stop, and of course a livery stable and a blacksmith.
The history of Oakhurst is well documented at the Fresno Flats Historical Park
which is located along the Oak Creek portion of the Oakhurst River Parkway trail, at School Road (Road 427).
Oakhurst's original name was Fresno Flats because, for those coming down Deadwood Grade in a stagecoach, it was, after a full
day's travel, some welcome flat ground to calm peoples' "stagecoach jitters." The original town centered on what is now "Stagecoach Road" though modern day efficiency dictates it be called "Road 425-B". There are still a couple of the historic buildings viewable on the road,
just off Crane Valley Road (Road 426), however better preserved examples are on display at the Fresno Flats Historical Park.
The flatness of Fresno Flats is due to the Fresno River which flows through the area - along with two main tributaries, Oak Creek and China Creek. Consequently, the flat part of town is due to ancient alluvial action of the river and creeks bringing soil down from higher elevations and depositing it during eons of flooding. Today this area, and the Oakhurst River Parkway trail, run from Oakhurst Community Park at the western side, to the beginning of steeper terrain northeast of Yosemite High School. In between, is a marvel of diverse animal life which you can capture by enjoying a walk along the 3½ miles of the Parkway's trails and side-trails. (See our map page.)
OAKHURST RIVER PARKWAY'S BEGINNINGS
In 1992, the Oakhurst River Parkway was a dream of a small group of citizens who wanted to preserve and restore the natural resources of the environment within the community. Prior to that, history made any water flowing through the area a draw for people to establish ranches, a town, and use the waterways as dumping grounds by early-day residents to whom the last thing on their minds was ecology.
The work of restoring the Fresno River's watershed was a daunting task in 1992. Along the creek were crumbling structures, former bridge abutments, overgrowth, not to mention over a century of castaways at every turn of the river. In addition, the waterways themselves had become fouled with weed growth, opportunistic trees and shrubbery, as well as parasitic grown of mistletoe in the beautiful oaks.
It took countless hours by local volunteers to transform a cluttered riverway into their dream of a beautiful nature trail in the center of what had become one of the best-thriving mountain communities in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Unbelievable tons of brush, castoffs, concrete, paving materials and other detritus had to be removed before trail construction could even begin. But Oakhurst was growing up, and these people's vision dictated that the beauty of the town should be preserved, and they did just that.
THE DREAM COMES INTO REALITY
The voluntary committee knew they could not handle this project alone. They sought, and received, support from the Eastern Madera County Chamber of Commerce and the Madera County Board of Supervisors and have been successful in receiving several grants to develop and construct the Oakhurst River Parkway.
For wildlife watchers everywhere, The Oakhurst River Parkway is now designated an official Wildlife Viewing Area by Watchable Wildlife. Their book, the California Wildlife Viewing Guide is available by clicking here.
Also available or orderable at Willow Bridge Books in Oakhurst, or from Amazon.com is Sierra Birds - a Hiker's Guide by John Muir Laws
Great Horned Owl, common in California. Photo courtesy of Birder's World Magazine.
The footbridge over Oak Creek, between Oakhurst Elementary School and the Harry H. Baker Boys and Girls club is a wonderful viewing platform for wildlife. Tadpoles, frogs, and the insects they bring to a seasonal creek give viewers surprises year 'round.
Looking around there are squirrels, birds of every color and even deer frequent the creek in both its wet and dry seasons.
With our handy Eco-Checklist you can keep track of what you see as you walk the trail, and we've even made an easy-to-print version of the checklist for keeping in your pocket or backpack.
Several times each year, committee members and many concerned volunteers gather at the Community Park for a little celebration to start a cleanup of the Oakhurst River Parkway and its water environs.
There are people who help in the cleanups who have been doing so since before the trail opened to the public. We are so grateful to them for their efforts. Not to be forgotten are the many people who have made donations to the River Parkway Committee to assist in building and maintenaning the trail's facilities, furnishings and bridges.
Links To Other Organizations
- California Dept. of Water Resources watershed management assists local agencies and groups in developing watershed management plans and objectives. DWR coordinates resources to provide technical help to those groups, such as the Oakhurst River Parkway.
- Friends of the River - founded during the struggle to save the Stanislaus River from New Melones Dam. Following that campaign, the group grew to become California's statewide river conservation organization, dedicated to preserving and restoring California's rivers, streams, and their watersheds as well as advocating for sustainable water management.
- Sierra Nevada Conservancy initiates, encourages, and supports efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the citizens of California.
- U.S. National Park Service website lets you find parks in any state, and information about each.
- Sierra Vista Scenic Byway - A spectacularly scenic one-day drive through the best of the Sierra Nevada mountains starting in North Fork, California. (post- and pre-snow season).
- American Hiking Society presents a website full of ideas for hikes and information for hikers' safety, gear, outdoor skills and more.
- California Trails and Greenways Conference: Education, networking and development of strategies for envisioning, planning, funding, designing, constructing, and managing non-motorized recreational trails in California.
- Childrens Museum of the Sierra is a perfect place for youngsters to learn about our environment as well as have a fun playday. Located on Golden Oak Drive.