Our Wild & Scenic River

Editor’s note: Residents are invited to share their views on the restoration of the Yuba River watershed at a public hearing this week. The meeting is from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at the Nevada County Library, 980 Helling Way, Nevada City. The fall issue of our magazine is dedicated to the Yuba. Read our introduction:

Poet Gary Snyder poses outside a wood shed at Kitkitdizze, circa 1990s. Photo: Christopher Felver/CORBIS

“I am foremost a person of the Yuba River Country in the Sierra Nevada.”
—Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Gary Snyder

Our region is known worldwide as home to Lake Tahoe, “the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” as Mark Twain wrote in Roughing It. Tahoe is one of the oldest, deepest and purist lakes in the world.

Lesser known, but also spectacular, is the wild and scenic South Yuba River, which originates at Donner Pass, near Soda Springs. The 65-mile river runs west, shadowed by I-80 and Old Hwy. 40. Then it flows into Lake Spaulding, plunges into a magnificent ravine and flows past the Little Town of Washington, historic Nevada City and Bridgeport on the way to Englebright Reservoir.

In 1999, 39 miles of the South Yuba achieved “wild and scenic” status under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, thanks to the efforts of the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) and others. The Act was passed in 1972 to preserve “designated rivers possess- ing extraordinary scenic, recreation, fishery, or wildlife values.” Other pro- tected rivers include stretches of the American, Eel, Klamath, McCloud, Smith and Trinity.

Besides being one of America’s most beautiful stretches of water, the South Yuba is an “economic engine.” Each year, more than 750,000 people visit the Yuba’s deep emerald swimming holes, beaches and trails. Some of the Yuba’s swimming holes are rated among the world’s best, rivaling cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, waterfalls and jade pools in Asia, and freshwater pools in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

The South Yuba has inspired famous poets, musicians and artists, such as Gary Snyder, who won a Pulitzer Prize with Turtle Island, or fiddler Alasdair Fraser, whose song “Whitewater” is an ode to the Yuba.

The Yuba watershed has been the longtime home of some nationally known figures, including Snyder, Fraser, conservationist John Olmsted and Michael Funk, co-founder of United Natural Foods Inc., the nation’s leading organic food distributor.

Funk lives along a stretch of the Yuba River that is nothing short of magical. “I wanted to put roots in real deep and be here the rest of my life,” Funk said in a feature in Mother Earth Living.

Snyder lives “off the grid” on the San Juan Ridge in a homestead called Kitkitdizze (named for a local plant). Part Japanese farmhouse, part Indian lodge, it was built with ponderosa pine and cedar, and stones from the Yuba River.

The Yuba is at the heart of western Nevada County’s lifestyle. It is pictured on a mural on the historic Del Oro Theatre in Grass Valley by trompe l’oeil artist John Pugh. In Nevada City, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. is named after the three forks of the Yuba. During the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, colorful Yuba River salmon are painted on storefronts in both towns. We dedicate this issue to Yuba River Country.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

One thought on “Our Wild & Scenic River”

  1. Hi Jeff, Nice article. I want to remind you that the sponsor of the legislation designating the South Yuba River as Wild and Scenic was the County of Nevada, and I was the leader of the campaign to pass the bill inside the Capitol. SYRCL played an important role in educating the people of Nevada County about the importance of the river and in that way building support for the County taking the lead in passing the bill. As a County Supervisor at the time I spent much of my first year on the Board working in the State Capitol to pass this legislation. SYRCL was one of the several organization that stood with me as I walked the Capitol educating legislators about the bill. Other organizations that helped with this effort include Friends of the River and the Sierra Club.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s