Prelude paddle to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City- in collaboration with SYRCL
As Roger handed me the metal paddles I pictured myself prying small frozen fingers off of them. My own fingers were near freezing as I loaded the gear into our truck for the next morning. Nevada City, along with much of California, was going through one of winter’s coldest snaps and we were about to take a bunch of Hawaiian high school kids out in freezing temperatures to float the Lower Yuba River.
This is the River to Reel, the second annual lower Yuba River paddle hosted by Rivers for Change in conjunction with the South Yuba River Citizens League’s (SYRCL) 11th annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Grass Valley and Nevada City, CA. The Hawaiian kids were there as young film makers who had had several of their environmental movies accepted as part of the film festival. Check out their projects HERE. They were seven in a group of 28 people who braved chilling temperatures to meander down a river full of history.
Gary Reedy, SYRCL’s science program director, filled us in on the recent past of the Yuba River and why it looks just plain weird. The region was a hot bed of hydraulic mining during the gold rush. Miners shot water cannons into the river banks and mountain sides to flush out gold causing 684 million cubic yards of sediment to be removed from the Yuba watershed and transported downstream. Having a hard time putting meaning to that number? Try this: Picture a 100 mile stretch of 20 ton gravel trucks lined bumper to bumper, filled to the brim with gravel, rock and earth. Now make the width of that line five miles wide. This sediment flowed to the confluence of the Yuba and Feather River, then south into the Sacramento River where it eventually sank into the San Francisco Bay Delta choking out wetlands and causing concern for shipping commerce.
These mining processes also piled cobbles and earth up into a maze of strange hills, ridges and pools, pinching the river down to the narrowest edge of a flood plain that was once two miles wide. SYRCL is currently working to restore the floodplain, which is still heavily impacted by the hydraulic sediments and dredger mining.
On the banks, the sun has thawed us and everyone is piled three layers deep in Patagonia fleece and Kokatat shells. Reheated and cozy, the kids forget they’re not in Hawaii, we take to our boats and off we float. We are all amazed. We see Bald Eagle, King Fisher, the air is quiet and crisp. We portage Daguerre dam and lunch above it, contemplating this out of date concrete relic. Gary discusses SYRCL’s latest fight against a proposed hydro-electric expansion at this dam site that would further threaten near extinct salmon runs on the Yuba. Dave Steindorf of American Whitewater is on hand to explain the benign appearance of what is actually a deathly reversal of the low overhead dam- and the reason we are portaging.
We’re completely warm after carrying the boats around the dam. The last few miles flow effortlessly and the afternoon shadows draw long. The Hawaiian kids, who arrived shivering and nervous, spend time at the take out sitting quietly by the river, watching the sun dip from between the willows, making a connection. They tell us how much they enjoyed the day. The bond they made with the Yuba after one day of paddling reminds us how important our efforts are to save and restore our rivers, for ourselves and for them.
Even though this river has been bound, choked, and nearly drained it still flows on and provides us with a place for peace, reflection and enjoyment with our new and old friends. It is the perfect prelude to the Wild and Scenic film festival, from which I will leave thoroughly inspired at what has been accomplished and with grave understanding of the monumental work that lies ahead.
- Learn more and become part of the force against a new dam at Daguerre point and the fight to save the salmon at: yubariver.org
- Join SYRCL on a paddling tour (Salmon Tour) of the lower Yuba River in the fall for a great chance to see firsthand the “weird”, wonderful riverscape and one of the last best wild spawning runs of Chinook salmon in the Great Central Valley.