By Heather Kallevig
Twelve high school students, split between two rafts, hoot and holler as they pass over the rapids below the Highway 20 bridge. They spend the day navigating the unique, rocky landscape and beautiful clear waters of the Lower Yuba River.
Highlights of the field trip include shooting the rapids, visiting restoration projects at Hammon Bar, hiking the Yuba Gold Fields, observing the impacts of hydraulic mining, and engaging in a variety of activities to learn about the salmon life cycle, but the most exciting part is the arrival at Salmon Alley. Here the students peer into the water at the massive fish as they jockey for position, work hard to create their redds (salmon nests), and rest in nearby deep pools.
After lunch, if a spawned-out salmon (a fish that has died after spawning is completed) is found near the riverbank, students can get an up-close and personal view and even hold the salmon. Although sometimes squeamish, students are eager to examine the toothy tongue, scales, and the injuries this remarkable fish has faced in its struggle to return to its birthing grounds to reproduce.
People of all ages, stand in awe of the challenges salmon face and the perseverance required of this species to ensure its offspring will survive to another generation. Salmon Tour participants depart with a reverence for these formidable fish and their fascinating life-cycle. They are eager to take on their new role as salmon stewards, to tell as many people as possible about Yuba salmon, and to ensure that they continue to swim up the Yuba River for many generations to come.
This Yuba Awareness is the goal of SYRCL’s River Education Salmon Tour Program. Each fall SYRCL invites participants of all ages to hike or raft on the Yuba River, to learn about the plight of Chinook Salmon, the ecology of the lower Yuba, and the historical impacts of hydraulic gold mining. SYRCL River Education works together with an active group of volunteer naturalists, talented guides from Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC), and other valuable community partnerships to host the seasonal trips. This year SYRCL continued their partnership with Sierra Academy and Nevada Union High School to train teen naturalists. These students take extra time out of their studies to learn all about the Yuba Salmon and to teach that information to students on the trips.
Teachers and students alike look back on their day, whether rain or sun, with gratitude for the experience they’ve shared. Jessica Lee, a teacher at Nevada Union High School, recently reflected on her experience on the tour. “We loved being able to spend the day on a raft, enjoying some of our local treasures. Students had a really good time, even in the rain. They liked being outside and loved being on the rafts. They enjoyed their river guides and getting to see and learn about salmon firsthand.”
This year’s program saw significant growth in its school and public program. SYRCL hosted students from 14 schools and 24 classrooms. We also held two public tours, one open rafting and one hiking tour in partnership with Yuba City’s Swan Birding Festival. This year we also hosted a fieldtrip for the Natural Areas Conference out of Davis. A grand total of 722 participants ranging from 3rd graders to high school students, college graduate students, and retired adults all visited the Yuba to learn about salmon and our beloved Yuba River.
The Salmon Tour Program will return next year, so make sure to mark it on your calendar early. We have a wait list, so get in touch in July and August for your trip. You too can enjoy this wonderfully unique excursion and become a SYRCL Salmon Steward. For more information contact Betsy Harbert, River Science Project Manager, at email@example.com or (530) 265-5961 ext. 224.