Friant Interactive Nature Site

Election Tuesday can be a bit of information overload. Everyone on social media is slinging their candidate’s views around like insults. After Squish and I did our civic duty, I knew that we needed to unplug for the day. We decided an easy hike and some relaxing river play sounded like a good idea. After sitting down and reflecting on it this morning, we should have taken a couple of days and hid out on a back country trail. One day of being offline wasn’t enough, but it did help.

Friant Interactive Nature Site, or F.I.N.S., opened to the public (for FREE) in late October. If you haven’t been yet, take the short drive. You will not be disappointed. Make sure you bring some extra quarters so you and the kids can feed the fish at the San Joaquin Fish Hatchery at the end of your visit.

Personally I only saw two articles on the opening, and they didn’t give much detail. I wasn’t even sure where the trail head was. ABC30 Action News did a small story highlighting the interactive play scape. It piqued my interest enough to pack up Squish and head out there.

Friant Interactive Nature Site trail head

The trail head was really easy to find. There is a brand new parking lot on the West side of Friant Road, directly across from the gas station. If you have ever been to the San Joaquin Fish Hatchery, the parking lot is right before that turn off. Right in front of the parking lot is a huge sign that says “FINS trail head”, so even I couldn’t miss it. There is room for RV and Bus parking as well.

FINS is going to become one of Fresno’s best kept secrets very fast. Stretching nearly a mile from the San Joaquin Fish Hatchery to Lost Lake, the interactive trail is a delight. When you depart from your car and descend the steps to the trail, you find yourself in a concrete amphitheater. I could imagine clearly school children clambering over the seats to hear about the river’s secrets. The detail around every corner was astounding. Individual brass oak leaves designate the seats, and pictorial images of the fish hatching cycle indicate the rows.

There are Rainbow Trout images hidden along the trail, and it was fun trying to find them all. I saw a fish-shaped planter box, extra-large fish sculptures in plaster and metal, and fish prints in the cement. The kids can dig and find fish eggs in the gravel digging pit, which was one of our favorite activities.

Friant Interactive Nature Site Digging for Trout Eggs

Around every turn on the meandering path, a new opportunity to learn and explore popped up. All of the newly planted vegetation had placards identifying the native plants that grow along the banks of our beloved San Joaquin River. Squishy was excited that he was able to recognize several of them; Cat Tails, Sage, Plantain, Black Willow and so many more. If these plants are allowed to mature and thrive it will rival the trails down the road in Woodward Park by far, with the added bonus of being FREE to the public.

 Squishy’s favorite spot in the in the kids park area was the canoe. I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it down to the river because he kept going back to it. A full size wooden canoe to spark the imaginative play in grown ups and kids alike. We were flying along the river looking for alligators one moment, and jumping into barracuda infested waters the next. In between our harrowing feets, we sat side by side with our imaginary fishing poles talking about the different kids of fish we were catching.

Friant Interactive Nature Site Canoe

Friant Interactive Nature Site surpassed my expectations. I am sure it will take us several visits to see everything. The detail and thought that went into the construction of this play-scape is unique to anything in Fresno. Seriously, besides the Zoo, there is nothing even close to being as beautiful and engaging. They even built a Beaver Dam! Although, Squish pointed out that it was not in water.  The only complaint I could possibly have is that there are too many installations that are off-limits. We are used to immersing ourselves in nature, and using logs, rocks and trees as our jungle gyms. Having to remind Squishy not to climb on the sculptures that look like play equipment was a little bit of a disappointment.

Once we passed through the children’s Interactive area, though, and left the Fish Hatchery behind, we were surrounded by the Wet Lands. Tall, ancient trees create a canopy over a tangle of berry vines, plantain, and wild grasses. We stayed on the paved path for the most part, but we saw several narrow critter paths that veered off toward new adventures. We will definitely be going back to see where they lead.

San Joaquin River Wetlands

Squish and I decided to have lunch next to the bridge once we got to the water. It was such a peaceful spot. Park benches were tucked away off the trail to enjoy the soft whisper of the water rushing by.  I actually had second thoughts about writing this blog post. I wanted to keep this little oasis secret, just for me and Squish.

San Joaquin River nature trails

We didn’t finish the trail. Almost made it, but we found a trail that was just irresistible. Shallow river water rushing over our toes, shiny river rocks and finding some leftover berries was more interesting than continuing on the paved road. There is always the next time, but Squish usually picks the road less traveled. So, who knows if we will ever make it all the way to Lost Lake.

Have you been to F.I.N.S. yet?

Check out San Joaquin River Parkway for more fun on the river, or if you enjoy our beautiful river think about volunteering with your kids with River Tree Volunteers.

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