NEWMAN - The proposed Newman Community Conservation Area, which includes a nature park and hiking trails, cleared two milestones recently with City Council approval of a master plan and environmental studies on the project.

The project, located north of Brazo Road and east of Canal School Road on city-owned property within Merced County, includes four distinct components.

Some serve a functional purpose through a system of constructed wetlands and vegetation that serves as a natural filter for storm drain run-off, while other aspects are recreational and educational in nature.

“In the long run, this is going to be a tremendous community project,” predicted City Manager Michael Holland. “We’re talking about an 80-acre nature park that we can readily access.”

The facility will be the first of its kind in the western San Joaquin Valley, Anna Buising, owner and principal project manager of Redtail Consulting, told the council in presenting the plans for approval.

She noted that substantial community input was solicited as part of the planning process, and the studies have defined mitigation measures to offset the potential environmental impacts.

The only comment received in response to circulation of the environmental documents came from the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District, the council was told.

But, Buising reported, “the project will actually benefit mosquito control at the site in comparison to the previous flood irrigation.”

She said that measures are built into the plans to protect sensitive habitat and wildlife during construction of the projects and over time as they evolve.

“We are restoring habitat. We are constructing habitat,” the consultant stated. “Operations and maintenance can adapt over time to be appropriate for the habitat and wildlife resources on the site.

The four components include:

• A 21-acre complex of constructed wetlands that will treat storm run-off from the city and dry season run-off from the city and surrounding ag lands prior to discharge into the Newman Wasteway and, eventually, into the San Joaquin River. Holland said the city has received $6.4 million in construction funding for that component of the overall conservation area.

• Construction of a seasonal wetland, riparian and grassland restoration project which extends beyond the primary 78-acre site to encompass an additional 24 acres of degraded wetlands. The city has received more than $600,000 in funding for that restoration project.

• A 16-acre wetlands project planned in conjunction with UC Merced which will treat water from the Miller Ditch to remove ag-related contaminants.

• The 25-acre nature park, which will be the centerpiece in terms of public use. The park will feature amenities such as a community plaza, a play area, demonstration gardens featuring native vegetation, a trail network and more. The city has applied for grant funding for development of the nature park.

A network of access roads throughout the four components of the 78-acre project will also be available for hiking and bicycling. Loops in the trail system will allow users to choose the length of their ride or hike.

“You can go out there and do a three-mile hike and never come across traffic,” Holland said by way of example. “You can take your kids out there on biks and they can ride around and not have to worry about cars. We think this is going to be a long-term community amenity.”

Holland said the project reflects a vision which has been years in the making. The land was purchased seven years ago, he noted.

“We bought the site way earlier than we needed to,” the city manager told the council. “It is all coming to fruition. Hopefully in a few years we will be seeing the fruits of that.”

“This is a long time coming. We have been waiting for this,” commented council member Laroy McDonald. “It has given us the big picture of where we’re heading. It looks great.”