By Megan Learned
As SYRCL’s new River Education Manager, my inaugural days of work were spent on the river at the start of Salmon Tours season – it was a trial by water experience! What an incredible opportunity to establish my role out in the field, facilitating personal connection with Chinook salmon and their spawning habitat.
I am a native Californian – born and raised in the Delta area of the Central Valley. I received my education here, and have a degree from the University of California. How is it possible that I could reach adulthood without knowing that the Yuba was such an important watershed for wild salmon? In promoting this experience for youth in our community and providing opportunities for them to make this connection, SYRCL is helping the next generation of Yuba citizens to cherish this regional treasure.
This year, SYRCL hosted students from six schools and 10 classrooms from Nevada and Yuba counties and held two public tours. In total, 300 participants – ranging from third-grade to high school students, college graduate students to retired adults – visited the river to learn about the salmon, explore the outdoors, and discover new and exciting information about our beloved Yuba.
I witnessed many moments of joy and discovery. I watched as third-graders from Scotten Elementary School scrambled excitedly over the riverbank cobbles, thrilled to be in salmon spawning habitat and actively searching stones in the river for salmon food (Kids call them “bugs,” scientists call them benthic macroinvertebrates). I overheard a student from Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts exclaim, “This is so cool ‘nature-nerding out!’” as a group of 30 high school environmental science students raptly watched salmon spawning for nearly a half hour.
Fourth and fifth-grade students from Grass Valley Charter and Nevada City School of the Arts unanimously agreed that being on the river and touching a spawned-out salmon made SYRCL’s salmon tour one of their “best field trip” experiences.
One group in particular, the Yuba County Juvenile Detention Facility, made my heart swell. At the completion of their tour, they said they looked forward to spending more time on the river and in nature because of how peaceful they felt during the trip. These California youth have directly observed – both physically and emotionally – the wildness and beauty of our native Chinook salmon spawning grounds in their own backyards. They will perpetuate this awareness as they describe their experiences to friends and family.
Yuba salmon education and appreciation are the goals of SYRCL’s Salmon Tour program. Each year between mid-October and mid-November, SYRCL invites participants of all ages to hike or raft on the Yuba River and learn about the Chinook salmon, the ecology of the area, and the historical impacts of hydraulic gold mining. SYRCL River Education staff work together with an active group of volunteer naturalists – including some from Bitney Prep and Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, talented guides from Environmental Traveling Companions and other valuable community partners to host the seasonal trips.
Highlights of the raft tour include shooting the rapids, viewing salmon spawning, visiting the restoration project at Hammon Bar, and hiking into the Yuba Goldfields. On the riverbank hiking tour, participants visit the Yuba River Education Center and nature trail, located at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley, where they can gaze down at actively spawning salmon, observe the impacts of hydraulic mining, and engage in a variety of activities to learn about the salmon life cycle. On most trips, participants are also lucky to learn from a deceased, spawned-out salmon.
The Salmon Tours program will return next fall, so make sure to mark it on your calendar and register early. You too can enjoy this wonderfully unique excursion, by bringing your students to a Salmon Tour, by volunteering as a naturalist, or by joining one of our public tours.