By Heather Kallevig
Thirty-two students stand in a large half circle gazing at a fish, who to their small frames can only be described as gargantuan. For many of these kids, this is their first time seeing a fish this size out of the water, and they line up for their chance not only to touch but to hold her. They are mesmerized by her decaying skin, her dilapidated caudal fin, and her sharp teeth, evidence of salmon spawning that is both frightening and beautiful to a small child. They are reminded that this animal has endured innumerable obstacles. She swam more than 175 miles to return to her birthplace on the Yuba River, where she proceeded to give her body and her life to creating a “redd,” a salmon nest, to deposit her eggs, and to die, making way for the next generation of Yuba Chinook salmon. The children leave their day at the river with a reverence for these formidable fish and their fascinating life cycle. They can’t wait to take on their new role as salmon stewards and tell as many people as possible about the Yuba salmon, to ensure they continue swimming up the river for many generations to come.
This Yuba awareness is the goal of SYRCL’s Salmon Tours program. Each year between October 15th and November 15th, 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, talented guides from Environmental Traveling Companions and H20 Adventures, and other valuable community partners to host the seasonal trips. This was SYRCL’s first year working with trained teen naturalists from Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning and Nevada Union High School.
Highlights of the raft trip include shooting the rapids, watching salmon spawn at Salmon Alley, visiting the restoration project at Hammon Bar, and hiking into the Yuba Goldfields. On the hiking trip, 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, sharing in the experience described above.
This year’s salmon tours saw significant growth in its school and public program. SYRCL hosted students from nine schools and 17 classrooms. We also held four public tours, including one hiking tour in partnership with the California Swan Festival. A grand total of 602 participants, ranging from 3rd graders to high school students, college graduate students, and retired adults all visited the river to learn about the salmon, explore the outdoors and discover new and exciting information about our beloved Yuba.
The Salmon Tours program will return next year, so make sure to mark it on your calendar early. You too can enjoy this wonderfully unique excursion and become a SYRCL Salmon Steward.
Did you enjoy this post?
Get new SYRCL articles delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our ENews.