Loved to Death: The Yuba River and Local Communities Feel the Impact of Visitor Surge

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Local river communities are feeling the impact of increased visitorship on the South Yuba River. Due to COVID-19 shutdowns, many people from outside the local area are searching for a quiet place to cool off this summer and the South Yuba River has been impacted more than usual. With recreation sites closed around the state, visitors are flocking to the South Yuba River to enjoy its emerald green pools. 

Unfortunately, the river is being “loved to death” as evidenced by the mounds of trash and hundreds of cars lined up along roadsides—and even within the roadways. This summer tourism season is harming the health and safety of our river and community.

SYRCL has been at the forefront of on-river advocacy for nearly a decade. “This has been a tough year. Typically our River Ambassadors are at the river crossings each weekend talking to visitors from out-of-town and picking up trash. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to safely implement the River Ambassador program that, in normal years, helps mitigate negative impacts. This summer, the program has been pared down to posting signage and sharing safety messaging on social media,” says Daniel Belshe, SYRCL Community Engagement Manager. “Without this important program and with the increase in visitors, the problems are compounded.”

Local North San Juan resident Darlene Markey spurred online conversation this week by commenting, “We are experiencing more litter, graffiti, overuse of trails, polluted waters, sun lotion slicks, lack of bathroom facilities, increased fire danger, more rescue operations and increased exposure to COVID. We live in fear and frustration each weekend. Residents no longer have sanctuary—any quality of life–at our river crossings. We are cleaning up what 800,000 plus visitors bring and do to our beloved river and community. Enforcement is inadequate and spotty. Signs are completely ignored…what can we do?”

In addition to the litter issues, many visitors are ignoring social-distancing guidelines as they pack trails and beaches. Parking lots fill up quickly, prompting dangerous roadside and illegal parking that blocks access for fire, medical, and rescue personnel. Blocking these river access roads also blocks residents, not just an inconvenience but a safety concern for emergencies.

Local residents are requesting more be done to keep the river and river community safe this summer. Wildfire is a huge concern in the Yuba River canyon. One spark can put thousands of homes and lives at risk. Campfires and BBQs were made illegal at the river two years ago, but uninformed visitors still start them. Local beaches and trails are littered with illegal camps, garbage, facemasks, tents, picnic refuse, and glass.

“We’re hearing from our members and larger watershed community that this dangerous situation needs to be addressed through more awareness and more interventions by agencies,” says Booth. “We are seeing a lot more ‘first-timers’ to the river. Out-of-towners need to know it’s not safe to come to the South Yuba right now—from Emerald Pools to Bridgeport. Our rescue personnel are stretched thin, while the hazardous parking conditions and serious fire risk endanger visitors and our community. Also, it’s almost impossible to practice physical distancing right now.”

According to Booth, SYRCL is also hearing from the Yuba community that road and enforcement agencies seriously need to address the traffic dangers. “The small parking lots can’t accommodate all the cars this summer, and drivers are making poor decisions, desperate to find parking. Residents who drive our roads everyday are horrified by the sheer number of visitors in cars and on foot, and the safety issues it is creating in our community. While our law enforcement and safety personnel are doing the best they can with the resources they have, it’s not enough. These problems are not new, but they are compounded by increased visitation and less capacity for SYRCL volunteers to be out educating the public. These issues have been ignored for too long – and here we are, a predictable bad situation made worse by an unpredictable public health crisis.”

“SYRCL and many of our local community members are willing to help to raise awareness, but what we really need are additional resources and enforcement from local and state agencies helping implement solutions that will immediately reduce risk,” say Booth.

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  1. Kimberly Cappa says:

    I’m a local…. left Edwards crossing today by 11:30am… too many people. Which I know from article that traffic will always be an issue. There were several cars parked beyond the signs and in the red. Please work with state ranger? Or sheriff ? to ticket those cars… maybe it’ll help keep the number of cars and people to the parking lot max and then hopefully they will leave.

  2. Sandy Philpott says:

    We have lived just 5 minutes from Bridgeport for the past 12 years and for the first time, we are unable to visit our beautiful river even in the early morning hours as hundreds of visitors every day from out of town rush to get their spot . They are blocking the roads and trashing everything -there is garbage everywhere! We feel our home and our lives are in danger because if a fire broke out, we have nowhere to escape with the masses of people blocking Pleasant Valley Road. We need the authorities to start turning people away or towing because tickets are not enough. Its a real tragedy. I’m disgusted and horrified.

  3. MARY FRICKE says:

    I totally agree with what has been posted. I was there this past weekend and younger people are “staking the claim” at the river by leaving behind backpacks and the like to save their space for them and their friends for the entire weekend. Not that I am saying all younger folk are this narcissistic but these folks sure were! I have never seen these folks before and I have been going to the same place for almost 30 years at the same time of the year. Forget about social distancing and wearing a face mask either. Unless these bands of young folk live all together in the same household, the river was a giant petri dish of Corona virus. And, I never saw a park ranger or BLM ranger all weekend to enforce rules, order, etc. Oh, and there were remains of camp fires in countless places and overnight camping going on too.

  4. JANICE CURRIE says:

    I have been swimming at Bridgeport most mornings for exercise during the summer season. This year has brought me to tears seeing the explosion of out of town visitors and what they are doing to our sacred river. Since I swim with a snorkel, I see tampons, sanitary napkins, rock filled bottles and cans, sock, shoes and general garbage at the bottom of the river. On land they are bringing BBQs, and literally everything but the kitchen sink. If they don’t feel like carrying it out, they leave it. Go down on a any morning and there are used diapers, poop, chairs, ice chests, wagons, umbrellas, towels, floaties, clothing, shoes and general picnic trash. It breaks my heart. The increased number of park workers this year are doing their very best to clean up after these rude, ignorant, disrespectful and disgusting out of towners. I know resources are thin, but I was WONDERING IF SOME OR ALL OF THESE WORKERS COULD WORK IN THE AFTERNOON VERSES THE MORNINGS? This would allow them to “monitor” people as they are packing up for the day and approach them as the begin to leave stuff behind.

  5. Jon Olander says:

    Stop the population growth of the world—-support Planned Parenthood and make abortion legal and low cost for all–men and women—–make consumption and recycling of resources mandatory education in all schools and communities. Think of the most Sacred River in India–The Ganges–then research how polluted it is ——then you will understand what to expect in future——

  6. Chuck Mackey says:

    I am a serious landscape photographer who has spent the last 40 years photographing the South Yuba river. The rocks above Lang Crossing where Bowman Road crosses blow Lake Spaulding is one of my favorite spots. I can report the same extreme levels of uses and trash left as the above post about Bridgeport. 100s there yesterday, huge piles of trash, old grills, chairs. Clothing and towels all along the river. Designated trash heaps and poop spots. Never seen anything like this. Looks like “big city” type people with on reverence for the River. I was told they are learning about the river from post on social media. I hope this is not the new normal. I fear now that thousands of people know about the Yuba they will be coming back from now on.

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