Heidi Hall: Is it time to get tough on river visitors?
KNOW & GO
WHAT: SYRCL River Ambassador volunteer training
WHEN: 5-8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16
WHERE: 313 Railroad Ave., #101, Nevada City
INFO: http://www.yubariver.org; 530-265-5961, ext. 212
I came for the Yuba River beauty and stayed for the community. That about sums up my love affair with western Nevada County and the chosen place I have called home for over a decade.
One of the few places in California where I can imagine laying down in front of a tractor to save it is the unparalleled and wonderfully accessible South Yuba River. I have my favorite beaches, and I love hiking there in the fall as much as I love swimming in it in the summer.
One summer I kept my bathing suit and towel in the back of the car, and drove straight to Hoyt’s Crossing after my weekday commute home.
After a quick change, I would head down for a glorious evening swim before driving the short distance home to cook dinner.
I know there are others who do this too, and it is one of the great benefits of living here.
The problem with Hoyt’s Crossing is that it is so easily accessible that it gets overused and, frankly, trashed.
Everything from glass to dog poop to used diapers, and the ever-present cigarette butts, food wrappers and forgotten socks and hats.
This was the subject of some debate a few years ago, and in 2012 our local nonprofit South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) stepped up to create the River Ambassadors program in conjunction with the California State Parks.
They were “established to build a team of environmental stewards to educate visitors about Leave No Trace ethics and inspire folks to take personal action to keep the river healthy, clean and safe. Stationed in booths and on the trails at Bridgeport, Highway 49, Purdon, and Edwards crossings each weekend, these phenomenal volunteers raise awareness with a friendly approach …”.
This great effort has helped bridge the unmet need for more state park rangers and brought in more locals to take part in keeping the river clean. You can find out more about volunteering, and attend their next (and this year’s last!) training from 5-8:30 p.m. July 16, at SYRCL, 313 Railroad Ave. #101 in Nevada City. Go to http://www.yubariver.org or calling 530-265-5961 ext. 212 for information.
The question today is whether this is enough. I ran into two local friends recently who are hardworking local business people and avid river lovers who do more than their share cleaning up after others. They frequent the river regularly at Hoyt’s crossing and elsewhere.
They were angry and disheartened at the trash they continue to find and were advocating for more stringent measures. Is it time to put up a gate, and charge a fee? Do we need to increase enforcement and raise the fines? Can we invest in better signage? Should we ban dogs altogether? Put a guard at the entrance for three months a year?
According to SYRCL, between 2012 and 2014 the River Ambassadors talked to nearly 14,000 visitors, collected nearly 12,000 pieces of trash, removed over 2,000 piles of dog waste and removed 18 fire rings.
Last Fourth of July weekend was their busiest yet, according to Suzanne Calkins, River Stewardship coordinator, and the crowds were overwhelming. Based on these statistics, it seems obvious that more needs to be done. And it also seems clear that the violators include locals. It is unlikely that the fire rings were put up by day-trippers from the city.
Have our leaders done enough to help on this issue? This is not just a State Parks problem, this is a western Nevada County problem.
We need tourists, but we also need to keep our rivers clean and the area fire-safe. Have we brought our local or county political capital to bear on squeezing out more help from the State Parks, as seriously underfunded as they are? Have we considered contributing County funds or personnel?
I don’t have the answers. I know that our own county and city funds are in limited supply. Nevertheless, we rely on our nonprofit community to solve so many problems that affect all of us, and I wonder why we don’t invest a few more of our taxes where they would make a big difference and benefit us all.
What about a community process to determine how many more restrictions this community would accept for the sake of a cleaner river for all of us?
How about rethinking our county budget to see where we might provide additional support to key Yuba River crossings for the short summer seasons?
Changing hearts and minds is necessary, but not enough to keep our river free of broken glass and fecal trash. Perhaps it is time to back up our volunteer Ambassador’s with some paid help and disincentives for the bad apples who ruin it for the rest of us.
Heidi Hall lives in Grass Valley. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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