The Riverbank Historical Society hosted another edition of its ‘Memories Day’ presentations on Friday at the museum in downtown.
The presenter was Scott McRitchie, founder and former president of the Friends of Jacob Myers Park. It’s a community group that supports and helps organize improvements in the park with the City of Riverbank.
McRitchie started his presentation with the original dedication of the land by the Jacob Myers family in 1949, but only on the condition that it be used as a park. The family had used the property for their family picnics, he said. In late 1999, the city had put together a community walk through the park, he said. They found that the park was badly run down, with broken equipment and the restrooms in a shambles. He said the “druggies ruled,” and families were afraid to use the park.
The group met later, discussing priorities and how to fix the problems. In July 2000 the Friends of Jacob Myers Park was formally organized.
McRitchie said when he was growing up, they didn’t have much money, so going to a park was a big deal.
“The prospect of seeing this park and all its potential was really exciting to me,” he said.
The group knew they needed to fix the ramp, restrooms, improve lighting and install a Park Host to watch over the improvements, he said. They helped the city acquire a $400,000 grant from the state Division of Boats and Waterways, which built the new boat ramp, paved it and brought restrooms, lights and drinking water back to the park. He described the multitude of difficulties and obstacles to the construction project. They had to juggle the salmon migration, winter rains and high river levels, which resulted in a very narrow window to accomplish the project.
McRitchie said it was determined that a large crane was needed to put a coffer dam in place so concrete could be poured down into the river bed. The next big undertaking, he said, was the playground equipment, which had been condemned by the state. A $90,000 grant was awarded by the county and 100 volunteers worked over “a hot August weekend” to complete the installation of the present equipment, supervised by two employees of the equipment manufacturer who accompanied delivery of the parts. Next up was installation of facilities for a Park Host to oversee the security of the improvements.
Over the years, McRitchie noted, many service clubs also have contributed time and funding to improve the park. Tables, benches, the Rotary picnic site are a few. Bringing irrigation lines across the river to the park helped revive the Bi-Centennial Grove and the plaques there were restored. Eagle Scout projects during that time have included the building of horseshoe pits, fence railings between the trees in the grove and most recently, the construction of a gazebo surrounded by a lawn, suitable for weddings and other gatherings. A path was extended into the back of the park, with facilities for walkers and a tent camping area for scouts and other groups, and a second Park Host site was built, as well as an amphitheater for outdoor stage productions.
The Friends of Jacob Myers Park includes a representative from the city council, the recreation department, US Army Corps of Engineers (which governs property immediately adjacent to the park) and citizens.
“We are only an advisory group to the city council,” he said, “but we work closely with the Recreation Department, which keeps us from going too far astray.”