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River watch: SYRCL’s river ambassadors promote preservation

SYRCL Executive Director Caleb Dardick (left), River Captain Alanna McDermott, and River Ambassador Elizabeth Crouthamel, stand on the 49 crossing bridge which sits about the south fork of the Yuba River.
Ivan Natividad/ inatividad@theunion.com |

What’s next?

SYRCL will hold its 17th annual Yuba River Cleanup and Restoration Day on Saturday, Sept. 20. More than 600 volunteers come out to clean 35 sites throughout the entire watershed, covering 1,300 square miles of watershed, and 90 miles of rivers and streams.

In one day volunteers typically pick up five to six tons of garbage, and the group has collected more than 160,000 pounds of garbage since 1998.

“Once everyone’s done cleaning up they come down to Bridgeport for a party,” SYRCL Executive Director Caleb Dardick said. “We have a free picnic and barbecue, live music, and a stone skipping contest.”

Dardick encourages people that are interested in the event to register online at yubariver.org. Volunteers can also participate in the clean-a-thon this year, a fund raising tool that supports the clean up and the River Ambassadors program.

“Ask their friends and families for five or ten bucks and maybe raise $100 for the river so we can ensure that programs like these continue for years to come.”

For more information go to yubariver.org.

The South Yuba River Citizens League, also known as SYRCL, held the final day of their River Ambassadors program Monday, after twelve weeks of promoting to visitors the importance of keeping the river clean of waste, while encouraging county residents to be stewards of their local watershed.

“When I was a kid you knew to clean up at the river after yourself,” SYRCL Executive Director Caleb Dardick said. “If you forgot and left something, some adult or friend would say ‘hey you’re not just going to leave that there?’ And you would clean up and pick up after yourself. Unfortunately I think that’s been lost, I think part of the reason it’s been loss is we have so many people coming to the river now.”

According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, the local state park gets an estimated 890,000 annual visitors a year. Dardick says that with so many visitors to the different parts of the river, it is important to educate the public and raise awareness around river preservation. Insert the River Ambassadors program.



“We’re out there every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day at all four local river crossings,” Dardick said. “We’re trying to have as much maximum exposure as we can with our river captains, who are also employees, and our river ambassadors, who are volunteers.”

“I moved here because of the river. I’ve been around with SYRCL since the beginning and it’s just been part of the community and part of keeping the river the way it is for us all to enjoy.”
Nory Fussell
local and musician

The River Ambassadors program began in 2012 when Dardick felt it was important for SYRCL to have a physical presence on the river during the summer, when it’s at its highest use. The annual SYRCL Yuba River Cleanup and Restoration Day, Dardick said, attracts more than 600 volunteers who scour 35 different sites of the river to clean and pick up loose trash left near and around the river. Each year the clean up collects five to six tons of waste in one day.




“When I became Executive Director, I said ‘Why don’t we figure out a way to phase out the clean up,” Dardick said. “We have a vision of not needing the clean up because the river will be clean, but the only way we can do that is raising the consciousness of the community so that everybody feels part of taking responsibility.”

This year SYRCL had 40 river ambassador volunteers setting up booths at Bridgeport, Purdon, Edwards, and the 49 crossing to hand out pamphlets and trash bags to river visitors, while also engaging in meaningful conversation about the local watershed. River ambassadors also walk along the surrounding trails of each river crossing to pick up trash and engage with visitors in face to face conversations.

“As of today we’ve crossed over 13,500 face to face contacts,” Dardick said. “And these are not just a simple hello, but an actual conversation with people over the past three summers. We want to be very consistent to river visitors about keeping the river clean, with a message of common sense, ‘If you pack it in, pack it out.’”

Key areas of concern SYRCL has had toward river cleanliness include broken glass, which Dardick says is one of the leading causes of injury at the river. Cleaning up after dogs that are brought into the river and its surrounding trails has been an issue, along with visitors attempting to start fires at the state park.

Dardick adds that cigarette butts are the number one waste found at the river, and that the accumulation of all of the different types of waste visitors leave behind is what river ambassadors are attempting to eliminate.

“It’s not just litter from people going to the river, it’s contractors from out of town dumping their wastes into the river,” Dardick said. “We’ve got encampments that are left behind sometimes from miners, sometimes from transients. So if everyone leaves a can, you’ve got tens of thousands of pounds of garbage.”

River captain Alanna McDermott says that she joined SYRCL as a child growing up and continues to work for the group because of the approach they take to keeping the river clean.

“What SYRCL does is amazing for the river,” McDermott, 24, said. “Just getting the community and everybody involved and keeping the river clean, and that’s what this program is doing, just being proactive about keeping trash out of the river, and keeping people from littering in the first place.”

State Parks Supervising Ranger Dan Youngren says that they have collaborated with SYRCL in recent years because of the similar values and interests both groups have.

“The River Ambassador program kind of took on the life of being our eyes and ears and being out there with the public, just to inform folks,” Youngren said. “We have probably around 500,000 people that come to the South Yuba River every year. It’s one of those last river corridors that’s designated as a wild and scenic river. So awareness and preservation is something that we teach, so the next generation will learn those values.”

Local resident and musician Nory Fussell says the work SYRCL does has been the reason why a lot of people in the community have stayed.

“I moved here because of the river,” Fussel said. “I’ve been around with SYRCL since the beginning and it’s just been part of the community and part of keeping the river the way it is for us all to enjoy.”

SYRCL formed in 1983, when proposals to create a series of damns over parts of the river were being considered, to provide energy to cities in Southern California.

“All of these rocks and pools would have been lost,” Dardick said. “So SYRCL engaged in what ended up being a 16-year fight, and won state and wild protections so the river can never be damned.”

Over the years, river ambassador Elizabeth Crouthamel says she has heard of all the work SYRCL has done for the Yuba River and began volunteering with the group.

“I like mostly engaging with the folks and talking with folks and seeing the area that has been a focal point for environmental progression,” Crouthamel said. “I like being a part of that.”

Dardick said the main message of SYRCL is to get people involved and welcomes more volunteers to join them in next year’s River Ambassador program.

“We have so many volunteer opportunities,” Dardick said. “But we don’t want to be the janitor of the river, we want it to be a culture where everyone takes personal responsibility. Starting in a place of love and understanding, but also to raise the standards of civility and conduct on the river so that it’s more family friendly and welcoming to everyone.”

For more information go to http://yubariver.org/programs/river-ambassador-program.

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email inatividad@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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