All Stockton city parks are officially back open following a nearly two-month shutdown due to a series of storms over the New Year that brought destructive winds and widespread flooding to California’s Central Valley.

The city’s 66 public parks were closed Jan. 3 to protect Stocktonians from falling trees and branches. One month later all but four parks — Oak Park, Panella Park, Louis Park and American Legion Park —  were opened for recreational use.

However, city officials announced Thursday afternoon that all its parks are finally ready to receive visitors. 

“City of Stockton crews and contractors have been actively working to recover from the January storms,” officials said in a city news release.  “Effective today, … all City parks are now open and available for community use.”

Though city officials also noted that additional park maintenance and repairs will continue over the next few weeks, including removing any remaining downed trees, and cautioned park goers. 

“Trees that have fallen are not safe. Please do not play, sit, stand, or gather around downed trees,” the city said. “Signage is posted where equipment is out-of-service, including some restroom locations.”

The final four parks were kept closed for an additional three weeks due to continuing hazardous conditions, city officials said at the time, such as storm damage and debris, downed and unstable trees, and ground that was still too saturated to support heavy machinery. 

Stockton spokesperson Connie Cochran told Stocktonia earlier this that the city had still been waiting for the ground to continue to dry out in some areas in order for clean up efforts to take place. The process can sometimes take awhile, she.

“When you come into a park, and you have to remove one of those ginormous trees, it takes big equipment,” Cochran said at the time. “When the ground is still soft, you risk either getting stuck or tearing up your infrastructure further.”  

About 325 trees fell into the public right of way during the storms — meaning they blocked streets and sidewalks, etc. — which took priority over those knocked down in parks, Cochran said. 

Thus, the city opted for closures instead.

“Most people weren’t going to be in them anyway, when it was really storming” Cochran said at the time. “And now it’s just a matter of being able to get in there, get them cleared, get the maintenance done that needs to be done.”

Fallen trees caused a major concern as Stockton and San Joaquin County deals with a series of winter storms. This tree fell in Caldwell Park in Stockton. (Scott Linesburgh)

Stockton officials have said that crews and contractors have been actively working on recovery efforts for about two months following record-breaking storms that began moving across California in late December and continued precipitation in the beginning of January.

Cochran said California’s ongoing drought conditions and anticipated lifespan are likely the root problem for so many downed trees across the city.

The state has been experiencing drought conditions for nearly four years, seeing its driest winter in 100 years at the beginning of 2022, where January, February and March had the least rain and snow on record for these months ever in California. 

At the end of November, large swaths of California fell into the drought categories of severe, extreme or exceptional, with the state’s Central Valley largely classified into the latter two categories, the most severe of the U.S. Drought Monitor’s drought conditions scale. 

Trees, as well as their root systems, become weaker during extended periods of drought, Cochran said, adding that roots will also move closer to the surface as they search for water rather than down. Thus, she said dry conditions coupled with aging trees and sudden saturation can create a problem. 

“That’s why actually during high winds and storms you would see the loss of trees,” Cochran said. 

Storms in late December and early January caused pervasive flooding and strong wind events throughout the Central Valley. Stockton also saw its wettest December on record in 70 years as well as smashed its daily precipitation record for New Year’s Eve. In response, the city as well as San Joaquin County declared local emergencies Jan. 1.   

After continued bouts of precipitation over the last three months, there are no areas of the state still classified in the extreme or exceptional drought categories. 

As for Stockton’s parks, the city says its regular winter maintenance schedules have resumed, while park amenities and sports fields are being readied for spring activities.

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