Three women who had never met before came together in the fall of 1985 to save the San Joaquin River bottom.
Clary Creager, Mary Savala, and Peg Smith met in Peg’s living room to discuss a proposed subdivision in the river bottom. These women shared their mutual concern about the threat of development along the river from Friant Dam to Highway 99.
Meeting weekly, they named their group the San Joaquin River Committee and set about reminding everyone who would listen that the San Joaquin River is a jewel in the heart of the Valley and that it needed to be preserved. The Committee published a newsletter, held fundraising events including canoe trips on the river, and organized educational meetings about the river.
The Committee grew to eight regulars who continued to meet at Peg’s house to talk about strategies for preserving the river. It was clear that a positive plan for the future of the river needed to be developed. One of the Committee’s supporters, Hal Tokmakian, introduced the group to the Charles Henry Cheney Plan, developed in 1918 for the future of the Fresno metro area. The Cheney Plan included a park along the San Joaquin River. The Committee immediately recognized that a river parkway would preserve the river landscape, but how to begin?
A new national organization, the Land Trust Alliance, held its first Rally at Asilomar in Monterey in 1987. Clary, Mary and Peg attended, thrilled to see so many like-minded people gathered in one place. The Rally crystallized their idea that a parkway would be feasible for the 22-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River between Friant Dam and Highway 99, and they left the Rally seeing a path ahead: They needed to form a land trust, which would then create a river parkway.
In March 1988, a non-profit land trust, the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, was established with Mary and Clary serving as board members, and in February 1989 the Trust completed its first land acquisition, a 286-acre site on the Fresno side of the river, acquired from the Underdown family.
The work of Clary, Mary and Peg in forming and maintaining the River Committee has been described by Clary as “one of the all-time great collaborations.” She says, “None of us could have done it alone. The alliance pushed us all beyond our expectations of ourselves because it was something greater than we were."
We’d like to take this opportunity to honor the founding mothers of the San Joaquin River Parkway. Thank you Clary, Mary, and Peg for your leadership. Future citizens who become involved in the River Parkway Trust will be forever inspired by the work of Clary Creager, Mary Savala and Peg Smith, conservationists and community activists – citizens who took the preservation of the San Joaquin River into their own hands and made it happen.