Volunteer Spotlight – Kathryn Smith

Posted on April 21

The South Yuba River Citizens League Board of Directors and Staff would like to sincerely thank all of the tremendous volunteers who help dedicate enormous amounts of time, skills, and enthusiasm to SYRCL’s mission.

What motivated you to become a River monitor?

In this time of global crisis, I considered what contribution I could make. Helping protect our local watershed made sense, was doable, and certainly a pleasure. I believe every single small act makes a difference. When the Wild and Scenic controversy arose in the community, it was polarizing for me- to step up and help. I have cared for humans most of my adult life as a physician. It seemed time to make the earth a priority.

Protection of wilderness landscapes is essential, for our physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Were you a SYRCL volunteer in another capacity before becoming a river monitor and if so, how?

Because of work schedules I could only come to the public events like the auctions and cleanups. I followed SYRCL’s birth and growth for years and sent newsletters to all my friends. Now I have more time.

In what capacity have you helped in the River Monitoring program?

Initially as a supporter and fan. Now-as a monitor once a month, and doing some of the related chores, such as caring for the equipment bags, entering data sheets into folders for each designated site, computer data entry into the federal (protected) watershed sites, doing some of the lab like turbidity measurements. Occasionally helping with other sites when folks are not available.

I recently joined the Science Committee to see if my medical knowledge could help with SYRCL’s science goals and data-gathering, and also to satisfy my own interest in what is being accomplished.

Last summer I attended the SalmonAid Conference in Oakland and reported on the activities for the radio station. It was my first foray in fish conservation.

A few years ago I attended seminars to become one of the “educated” citizen advisors for FERC, the federal dam relicensing process. The object was to make us more competent when dam relicensures occur and public input is sought.

A year ago I participated in the ambitious Steward’s project, which was to describe and do narratives of the mine impacts, history, and eventually ecology on the landscapes of the entire Yuba watershed. As part of the team assigned to Canyon Creek, I spent part of a summer hiking around Washington and Canyon Creek area, and did historical narratives and partial catalog of mine sites. It was an eyeopener to learn of so many mining sites. That project is on hold for now.

One of my favorite events of the year is Calling Back the Salmon. I go as a non-native representative. I consider the entire program sacred healing at a community level.

How long have you been a RM and what site/s have you been at?

I visited with the Oregon Creek team initially and they made it so much fun, I was hooked. I started at Spring Creek near Edwards Crossing a few years, moved to Rush Creek for a year, now monitor at Cherokee Creek off the North Fork.

What is your favorite place in the Yuba Watershed?

How do you limit yourself to one beloved being? I guess Hampshire Rocks and Donner Summit area, and the lakes of Grouse Ridge area. But most of my time is spent at lower elevations. Every spring I make pilgrimages to waterfalls during the snowmelt.

What are the positive/negative/ interesting aspects of being a River Monitor for SYRCL?

Hardly any negatives, except making the commitment to go out and do the monitoring, sometimes in bad weather, sometimes when social duties call. Seeing litter and human damage can be a bummer.

I have become hooked on learning the biology, botany, geology of the sites I visit. Watching the creeks or rivers or waterfalls and surrounding landscapes change through the seasons and years is a joy comparable to watching children grow up. It’s wonderful, humbling, centering.

Meeting the other river monitors has been an adventure-such a diverse interesting bunch of folks with stories and commitment to the community!

I would be out hiking regardless of SYRCl, so it is no chore to go out. But after every monitor trip, I come home a little tired and very satisfied to have made some type of contribution. And every trip is a visit to the wellspring, a nurturance of soul.

I will never forget helping a team do a daylong extensive Stream Survey at Lang’s Crossing. To describe the banks, streambeds, and channels required hikes around Cadillac sized boulders to find safe entry, tying ropes to trees and our bodies to enter waist-high and deeper water to do measurements, and shouting across obstacles from shore to shore to record data. It was a very Lewis and Clark day!

What are some of your hobbies, interests/passions?

Literature buff… and poetry-I write it and perform locally and regionally. Music is a passion, I listen all the time, volunteer for Latin, Women’s and Celtic shows at KVMR, and I used to sing in choral groups. In my youth I was a feminist activist. I have always done public service as a physician, and volunteered at free clinics in San Antonio, Texas. More recent interests are roots of religions and myths. I hope to do some work in Central America and Ecuador, Peru in near future. I had tried to incorporate alternative health care into my medical practice, am still interested in healing and all forms of medicine.

How long have you lived in the area?

I grew up in the Great Plains of Texas where water and trees are precious, so coming to visit the Sierra Nevadas as a kid was like heaven to me. I moved here in 1987. But I came here in summers as a kid to visit grandparents.

Anything else that you would like to add?

I have been humbled by the breadth and depth of knowledge and responsibility of the SYRCL staff. They have an awesome job, but need lots and lots of help. For me, helping at SYRCL is like going to church, sacred work and sacred fun.