Salmon Expeditions: Getting Back Out on the Water

After a year away from the river, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) is happy to announce a successful 2021 Salmon Expeditions season. Nearly 1,200 students from Nevada and Yuba counties joined us for a day to explore the lower Yuba, reflect on the history of the people and the space, and witness Chinook salmon spawning.

Inspiring Curiosity 

SYRCL’s River Education Manager, Monique Streit, and Education Coordinator, Shannon Hedge, led students on their holistic learning journey about salmon ecology, including lessons on the natural history of the Lower Yuba. The curriculum emphasizes the impacts of the Gold Rush not just on salmon populations, but also the original caretakers of the area and salmon, the Nisenan.

Learning about this tragic yet crucial part of our shared history in the Yuba River watershed helps students create interdisciplinary connections between SYRCL’s scientific work at restoration sites like Hammon Bar with social studies of the area. Students were also given the 2020 Virtual Yuba Salmon Adventures videos to view before their trip, which improved their understanding and retention of the material. 

Excitement Abounds

Squeals of excitement from students often indicated a salmon sighting. Students used hand signals to let their classmates on other rafts know whether the fish they spotted was alive or dead. Students looked on in wonderment as salmon leapt from the water, oftentimes mere feet from their rafts. Salmon carcasses pulled out of the river by raft guides also elicited enthusiastic responses as students were able to examine the gross anatomy of Chinook salmon up close and personal.  

Other wildlife sightings within the Lower Yuba ecosystem contributed to the sense of awe surrounding the trip, and included river otters, deer, golden eagles, bald eagles, osprey, egrets, and great blue herons. After witnessing a bald eagle flying overhead, one student excitedly remarked, “Wow, I didn’t know those actually existed in real life! I never thought I would see an eagle like that.”

For many students, this was their first experience rafting and sometimes their first time seeing the Yuba River. Some would approach the experience with apprehension, but after a few minutes on the water their anxiety would subside and they would eagerly await the next small rapid. Not only was the end of the float met with an enthusiastic “Best field trip ever!”, but many students also commented on how they wanted to become scientists when they grew up. 

SYRCL’s volunteer naturalists helped facilitate students’ hands-on activities on and off the water and answer questions about Chinook salmon, other wildlife, and the Yuba River watershed. SYRCL is grateful for their generous contributions to the program as well as the H20 Adventures guides who provided valuable natural history knowledge as they safely guided everyone down the Yuba. 

Reducing Barriers  

Thanks to a generous grant from Yuba Water Agency, SYRCL was able to not only take many students from Title I schools on a Salmon Expedition at no cost to the students but also start a water shoe loaner program that provided suitable footwear for rafting down the river.  

SYRCL looks forward to next year’s season of Salmon Expeditions that will continue to foster a new generation of life-long river stewards. For more information visit SYRCL’s Salmon Expeditions homepage. 

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