By Ray Lubitz and Cody Wasuta
A group of over 60 fourth graders, their parents, and teachers drift down the lower Yuba River. As the discussion shifts to the history of this place and its landscape, a bright adult bald eagle and her stocky juvenile alight upon a branch above the group. H20 raft guides point to the birds sitting just 30 feet above the group and everyone gazes up in rapt attention. As they prepare to continue downstream, students go silent, close their eyes and are carried away by the sounds of oncoming rapids, killdeer chirping from the banks, and the rhythmic plunk of the guides’ paddles moving them along.
After a short time, they join their guide in forging a path downriver, where they’ll spend the day immersed in the unique lower Yuba River landscape. Carried along in its current, they will pass by bedrock walls and canyons of gravel while witnessing wild Chinook salmon making their journey home from the Pacific Ocean, in search of their birth stream to spawn.
On this four-mile stretch of river, students watch these massive fish as they swim upriver to create or defend their redds (salmon nests). They are transformed into river scientists when collecting water quality data and identifying benthic macro-invertebrates, just like our SYRCL River Science team.
People of all ages are awed by the challenges these salmon face and the perseverance required by this remarkable species to ensure its offspring will survive for another generation. In connecting these students and families to the treasure of the lower Yuba River, we hope that Salmon Expedition participants leave with not only an appreciation for the resilience of this beautiful ecosystem, but a newfound desire to protect it.
Fostering passionate stewardship of the lower Yuba River is the goal of SYRCL’s Salmon Expeditions Program. Each year, for six weeks in October and November, SYRCL invites participants of all ages to hike or raft on the Yuba River and learn about Chinook Salmon, the ecology of the area, the socioecological impacts of mining on the Yuba watershed, the native people, and what SYRCL’s restoration program is doing to revive it. SYRCL’s River Education Department works together with an active group of volunteer naturalists, talented guides from H20 Adventures Rafting Company, and other valuable community partners to host these seasonal trips.
This year’s program saw significant growth, thanks in large part to a new partnership with Yuba Water Agency. Because of their generosity, SYRCL was able to bring over 600 new fourth-graders, and their respective learning communities from Yuba County, on these trips completely free of cost. It is hard to put the value of this gift, and the excitement of these students, into words – although shouts of “This is the best field trip ever!” on the river is certainly a start.
SYRCL hosted students, community members, and educators from 20 schools – 10 based out of Yuba County, and 10 from Nevada and San Mateo counties. They also held two public tours, and one trip in partnership with SF Baykeeper, a river keeper organization based out of the Bay Area. This diversity of participants makes up a grand total of 1,262 individuals ranging from third-graders to professional fish biologists visiting to learn about salmon, explore the outdoors, and discover new and exciting information about our beloved Yuba River.
The Salmon Expeditions Program will return next year, so make sure to mark it on your calendar early and reach out in May 2020 to avoid the wait-list. You too can enjoy this wonderfully unique excursion and become a SYRCL Salmon Steward.
“We had a completely great time on one of the Public Trips! Our H20 Raft guide was great with my grandkids, and we enjoyed the cool salmon facts, bug (salmon food) collecting, and had fun going through the rapids. Cody, the Salmon Expedition Facilitator, did a masterful job leading the day.”
– Mary Wade, Public Tours Participant
“Our salmon expedition was such a great experience all around. We felt safe and enriched by the expertise of the guides and naturalists on our journey down the river. The staff was very patient and kind toward our group. What a great day to enjoy some sunshine, some knowledge and a new experience right in our own backyard!”
– Heather Moural, 4th grade teacher, Kynoch Elementary School
“This was, by far, the most engaging and meaningful field trip I’ve experienced in all my years of teaching. I appreciate the module content and communication. I got to enjoy the day as well instead I’d having to deliver the content.”
– Participating 4th grade teacher, Yuba County Elementary School