Honoring Yosemite’s Other River

In Events

Hikers crossing the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park by Erik Meldrum

Many visitors to the park know the Merced River with it’s thundering waterfalls (Vernal and Nevada) but most miss the beauty of the Tuolumne River as it winds it’s way through the high alpine meadows, plunges into it’s narrow granite canyon and finally rushes headlong into Hetch Hetchy Resevoir.

From Hetch Hetchy the river flows unimpeded to Don Pedro Resevoir which acts as flood control while holding water for hydropower and irrigation. Wasn’t that long ago that bills were in the state assembly to damn the Tuolumne and it’s tributaries. Bills that would have destroyed hundreds of miles of fish and wildlife habitat. Lucky for us though, the Tuolumne was declared a “wild and scenic river” and spared it’s dismal fate.

Today it’s a wonderful place to fish, camp, and raft. That’s why a group is holding the Paddle to the Sea event to highlight the river, it’s past and it’s future.

Modesto Bee: The event, Paddle to the Sea, had 96 participants as of Monday, said Patrick Koepele, the trust’s deputy executive director. Sign-ups continue for remaining segments.

The event started Saturday with kayakers taking on the heavy spring flow on the Clavey River, a tributary west of the Tuolumne’s origin in Yosemite National Park. Kayakers and rafters also have covered the whitewater from the Clavey confluence to Don Pedro Reservoir.

Tuesday brought a voyage by kayak and power boat across the reservoir, which captures water for irrigation, urban use and hydropower.

After a week’s break, canoes and kayaks will make their way through the foothills and flatlands of Stanislaus County, where the river runs gently. The public is invited to related celebrations in Waterford on May 28 and Modesto on May 30.

Starting May 31, paddlers will cover the lowest part of the Tuolumne and turn into the San Joaquin River toward Lathrop.

Salmon fishing boats will handle the stretch through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and bay to Oakland. The final leg will be by sea kayak to San Francisco, where a final celebration will take place June 6 at Aquatic Park, about three miles from where the river water enters the Pacific Ocean.

The organizers said Paddle to the Sea could build support for enhancing fish, wildlife and recreation on the Tuolumne. The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the federal law that protected the upper part as a wild and scenic river.

Photo by Erik Meldrum.

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