Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mokelumne trips bring joy

Last Sunday, Foothill Conservancy held three raft trips down the Mokelumne River's Electra-Middle Bar run, thanks to rafting outfitter OARS. I was involved all day, from helping set up at 7:30 a.m. until the guides and rafts left just before 7 pm. It was a great day.

The 72 rafters were mostly local people who wanted to see the river from raft level. Some had floated the Electra run, but few, if any, had ever ventured below the Highway 49 bridge down to Middle Bar. They ranged in age from about 9 to somewhere around 80 (hard to tell).

Some folks were a little standoffish as they signed in. Others were a bit nervous, having never before floated a river. But once they got on the Mokelumne and began to paddle and float, you could see their expressions begin to change.

After the first riffles, the rafters were smiling and laughing. By the time they hit the Chute, they'd settled in to their buoyant yellow craft and learned to paddle as a team. And they were listening to and trusting their OARS guides, Tessa, Thomas, KZ and Kyland. Everyone was having a blast.

As fun as the rapids may be, the Electra-Middle Bar run isn't all about thrills. Beauty is its real attraction. Willows and alders line the river's edge. Valley oaks, live oaks, and cottonwood shade the water. The river itself is crystal clear, rippling and shifting from deepest blues to gleaming golden green.

Punk-feathered mergansers swim in the river margins and dive for fish near the rafts. Songbirds serenade from the willows. And there's the sound of the river itself, lapping the shore and rocks, roaring over rocks, splashing when fish jump.

Below the last big rapid, the river slows, and rafters slow down, too, moving in river time to better observe and appreciate the river, its wildlife, and the foothill scenery.

When the rafters reached the takeout at the 1912 Middle Bar Bridge, they were all in love with the Mokelumne. Everyone was smiling and laughing. Seeing all those happy people was more than adequate reward for those of us who put the day together.

The trips helped fund a worthy cause, too -- Foothill Conservancy's efforts to restore and protect the Mokelumne. All is not well on our local river. The entire Middle Bar reach of the river below Highway 49 and a mile of the Electra run are threatened by East Bay MUD's plan to expand Pardee Reservoir. If you haven't yet signed on to oppose that misguided plan, please do it today.

And be sure to tell your friends and family in the East Bay to contact their EBMUD director and urge the EBMUD board to protect what remains of our Mokelumne River. East Bay residents need to step up and say, "Don't destroy this river in our name." If you want to help in the East Bay, send an e-mail to Tim to volunteer.

It's time for East Bay MUD to solve its water issues locally, not by drowning more of a river that sustains such abundant life and brings such joy to those who have a chance to see it first hand.