What a wild and scenic trip it’s been for SYRCL | TheUnion.com

What a wild and scenic trip it’s been for SYRCL

Photo credit: John M. Daly
John M Daly |

Last weekend, Dennis Barry, his son, Eli, and his 15-month-old grandson, “Little Eli,” joined a small band of fellow river lovers at Edwards Crossing to recreate a now-iconic photograph first taken decades ago.

They stretched out the original banner blazoned with the words “Save the Yuba River” across the bridge and smiled and waved at the camera, just like they did in 1992.

Barry, one of the 1983 founders of the South Yuba River Citizens League, remembers when the grassroots organization was formed 30 years ago to stop the construction of dams on the river.

“In the beginning, we were just fighting to keep (the river) from being developed from commercial gain, to protect our swimming area, our native land, our home … That was and has always been one of my biggest concerns … to keep the river like it is for future generations to enjoy,” Barry said.

SYRCL will celebrate a “30th Anniversary Auction, Party and Picnic: What a Wild and Scenic Trip It’s Been” from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the historic North Star House, 12075 Auburn Road, Grass Valley.

“This anniversary event is an opportunity for the whole Yuba River community to celebrate its work … to protect and restore the river,” said Executive Director Caleb Dardick. SYRCL is known for throwing great parties, he added.

Local bands Beaucoup Chapeaux, Ghost Pines and Achilles Wheel will perform live music during the event. There will be a silent and live auction, and the community is invited to bring their families and set up blankets and chairs out on the lawn and enjoy a barbecue.

It’s an important fundraiser for SYRCL, second only to the watershed advocacy group’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

SYRCL is still rebounding from an economic hit in 2008 when the recession forced the organization to cut its staff from 14 to four. The organization currently has five full-time staff members.

Community involvement has always been the backbone of the group.

In three decades, the organization has grown a base of more than 3,500 members and 1,000 volunteers.

“Our river is a grassroots success story that I am so proud to have been a part of. This has been a groundbreaking idea to protect our natural resources that is becoming worldwide,” said Jacquie Bucknell, an early organizer who painted the “Save the Yuba River” banner.

“When we were fighting off proposed South Yuba dams one by one back in the 1980s — starting with Miner’s Tunnel and Excelsior — we had no idea we were laying the foundation for SYRCL to become a pre-eminent watershed organization,” reflected Roger Hicks, a SYRCL founder and current board vice president.

Volunteers take on advocacy roles and help support water quality monitoring, salmon restoration and annual river cleanups, and sign up to be River Ambassadors.

Last fall, SYRCL partnered with the federal Bureau of Land Management to plant 6,300 cottonwoods and willows to improve fish habitat in the lower Yuba.

Each year, more than 600 people participate in the Greater Yuba River Cleanup. In the past 15 years, volunteers have collected 140,000 pounds of trash. Last year alone, volunteers removed 8,000 pounds of trash from the river and its tributaries.

Last year, when Malakoff Diggins and the South Yuba River state parks were threatened with closure, nearly 400 people collected over 10,000 signatures in 30 days to keep the parks open.

If the parks had closed, a 20-mile stretch of the South Yuba River would have lost state park ranger oversight.

Executive Director Caleb Dardick was in high school when SYRCL first formed. Like most Nevada County teenagers then and now, he could be found hanging out at the river.

“I think everyone that lives here, once they’ve seen the Yuba, they are changed for the better,” Dardick said.

The Yuba River provides recreation for locals and visitors alike. Some cite the river as the reason for relocating to the area, Dardick said.

“The Yuba is really the lifeblood of the community and an intimate part of how people live and play here. It attracts all ages and all demographics,” said Janet Cohen, a longtime volunteer and former executive director.

In recent memory, SYRCL has taken on a bigger advocacy role in Sacramento at the state Capitol and at the federal level in Washington, D.C. Since the late 1990s, the organization has worked to restore wild salmon runs.

Earlier this year, SYRCL filed a citizen suit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to comply with Endangered Species Act requirements to protect threatened Yuba River salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon.

SYRCL is advocating for increased river flows and improved fish passage and water quality in this year’s federal relicensing negotiations for dams located upstream.

Decisions made now will control flows on the river for the next 30 years.

“It’s SYRCL that represents the community at the table. If we can’t get better flows for the next 30 years, fish habitat is in danger,” said Dardick.

All of the money raised at Saturday’s fundraiser benefits SYRCL’s work. It’s a scope that early pioneers marvel at.

“Thirty years of SYRCL is a miracle,” said filmmaker Gregg Schiffner, who documented the movement to get wild and scenic status for the river with his film, “Stories of the Yuba.”

For a “little grassroots organization that started on a picnic table in Pioneer Park,” SYRCL’s strength in numbers and influence says a lot about Nevada County, said Schiffner.

“Now through their success, SYRCL is helping to educate the whole country. The SYRCL story is a great tribute to our community,” he said.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://YubaRiver.org.

Contact freelance writer Laura Brown at 401-4877 or laurabrown323@gmail.com.

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