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Park Overcrowding Due Before Council
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The overcrowding of Jacob Myers Park on summer weekends has become a problem that must be solved if the riverside recreational area is not to deteriorate.

Riverbank Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick has been holding talks with park hosts, maintenance staff, Friends of Jacob Myers Park, local police and others. She plans to place the matter on the city council agenda for its Aug. 23 meeting.

"The park's very well used. It's a good thing. It's family oriented. We don't have gangs. We don't have fights. But when you can't see the grass for the people. When you can't get a golf cart through ... we have to make some changes." she said recently.

The city will have to determine the park's reasonable capacity, she said. Officials estimated it attracted 2,500 people on July 4, the highest number ever seen there. People of both sexes were standing in line to use the restrooms, she added, noting, "If that happens again, we will have to bring in portables."

The parking lot has 130 slots plus seven for the disabled. But on an average summer weekend, the spaces are full by 11 a.m. Park hosts close the gates against further vehicles but that doesn't stop people leaving their vehicles outside the park and walking in carrying their picnic and swim gear.

They park "up on top" and often block the access roads to a small grocery store and some houses on the west side of Santa Fe Road and lining both shoulders of the highway to create a dangerous traffic situation.

In the latest development, some drivers have been parking close to the bridge's northern end and blocking a gate that leads to private property.

The city hopes eventually to construct more parking at the western end of the park. But that will only come with more grant funds and more park development.

"In any case, people will still want to stay at the east end of the park near the beach and the playground," said Fitzpatrick.

Meanwhile the crowds are overwhelming park workers. Some have collected 100 garbage bags a day. Some have worked 16 hours at a stretch. There is alcohol being brought in, hard to detect in the crowds.

One problem is the park lies on the north side of the Stanislaus River outside Riverbank's city limits. Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies have undertaken to patrol and respond to emergency calls at the park. But if authorities erect no parking signs along the highway just north of the park, enforcement would have to come from San Joaquin County deputies, said Fitzpatrick.

For the moment admission to the park is free. There is a suggestion the city charge a fee of about $5 per vehicle just for summer weekends. The funds raised would go to pay for enforcement of parking regulations for those kept outside the park gates.

The park is becoming a victim of its own success, Fitzpatrick noted. Five to 10 years ago it had become the haunt of drug dealers, thieves and vagrants and no family dared go there. Then the city was awarded some grant money, local volunteers worked very hard to make numerous improvements and the community took back its park.