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Truckee River Day

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Truckee River Day is the classic example of what can happen when a large group comes together to do something positive and proactive.

On Oct. 10, the Truckee-Tahoe community celebrate the event’s fourth year, as volunteers work to protect and restore the health of Truckee area rivers and streams.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Beneath the Surface: the Hidden Life of the Truckee River.” Throughout the day, events, discussions and activities will focus on aquatic life found in the watershed. A wide range of projects will include planting, erosion control, stream stabilization, trail building, fish planting and river cleanup, according to event organizers.

Truckee River Day was organized four years ago by Sarah Trebilcock of Villager Nursery, Alice Berg, a former biologist with the Forest Service, and Jim Plehn, a local ecologist and botanist. They had come into to contact with similar efforts in different communities, and decided they would try it in the Truckee-Tahoe community.

“They really in a matter of a couple of weeks organized this and put it together,” said Brian Kearney of the Truckee River Habitat Restoration Group.

According to Trebilcock, organizer met, planned a variety of projects and were able to “scrounge” several thousand dollars to make the event possible.

Three hundred community members came out to the first Truckee River Day to get involved with river clean-up, restoration and revegetation.

“We wanted it to be more educational and not just a river cleanup,” said Trebilcock. “We realized a Truckee River Day might be one way to do a lot of the projects we wanted to do.”

The educational aspect of Truckee River Day is what makes the event unique, Trebilcock said. In fact, other communities now use Truckee’s river event as a model. While river cleanup and restoration from the 1997 flood are important elements, the Truckee River Habitat Restoration Group hopes to involve the community in various education and hands-on projects for increased awareness, she said.

“Always the idea is to bring to peoples’ attention something very interesting about our watershed that people understand is important,” she said.

And people are interested in watershed issues in Truckee.

The second annual Truckee River Day brought approximately 600 community members and the third year attracted 800 to 900 volunteers, Kearney said.

“It really shows that the people who live here care about the river,” he said.

This year, organizers are expecting between 800 and 900 volunteers again to be engaged in river projects from Pole Creek in the south to the Little Truckee River in the north. Many of the projects planned for this year are collaborative efforts with other local organizations.

Now that phase one of the Truckee Rotary’s Truckee River Legacy Project is under way, River Day volunteers will help stabilize the first section of the trail by planting, mulching and completing rock work.

Volunteers will also work with Patagonia and the Forest Service on a major trail building project along the Little Truckee River, and with the Town of Truckee at Donner Creek.

Truckee River Day has become a popular event for community members of all ages and affiliations: families, schools, classes, scouting groups, local businesses and individuals.

“Not only is Truckee River Day growing, but the impact it can have on the river and its future is growing,” Kearney said.

According to Trebilcock, the projects completed at past Truckee River Days have been extremely successful.

The success rate for most of the projects has been 80 percent and for some even 100 percent. Both Trebilcock and Plehn maintain the projects throughout the year and have tracked the positive results.

When the flood of 1997 scoured the banks of the Little Truckee River of its protective vegetation and deposited tons of small rocks and boulders in their place, one of last year’s stabilization projects took place at the Little Lower Truckee River Campground.

Volunteers drove in willow stakes and planted small alder trees to help stabilize the banks and prevent sediment from getting into the river where it could clog the crevices where fish lay eggs.

“The people who worked on this project must have thought we were crazy, asking them to plant willows and alders in a boulder pile,” Plehn said. “I thought it was a little crazy myself. But now look at it.”

Plehn and others noted dramatic results after only one season.

The majority of the plants survived and are thriving in the rocky soil, and willows and alders have doubled and tripled in size along the campground.

Joanne Roubique, Truckee District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, said the hard work of the volunteers has really paid off. Most of Truckee River Day projects have been completed on Forest Service lands.

“We went out a few weeks ago to monitor some of the work from past River Days,” Roubique said. “Hundreds of plants that were planted last year are really taking off. We’re seeing the benefits already.”

Roubique, who has been involved with the event since its inception, said she is proud of how the community responded to the movement.

“When the community gets involved we just get so much done,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to get to know the volunteers. The surprise is the strong community response. Truckee is just so committed as a community to working on quality of life and quality of the environment.”

This year’s Truckee River Day will also feature the second annual Truckee River Symposium on Saturday, Oct. 9, titled, “For the Love of Fish: A Tale of Frogs, Fish and Unintended Consequences in the Sierra Nevada.” It will feature two renowned experts on Sierra fish and amphibians.

Speakers include Dr. Roland Knapp, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory near Mammoth Lakes. He will discuss the correlation between wilderness fish stocking and the decline of native amphibian species in the Sierra Nevada.

Another presentation by Eric Gerstung, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, will focus on the history of the Sierra fishery, particularly in the Truckee River and its tributaries.

Last year’s symposium was held at the Truckee-Donner Community Center, and had such a large turnout, organizers moved it to a larger venue at the Tahoe-Truckee High School auditorium. Sponsored by the Truckee River Habitat Restoration Group and the Tahoe-Truckee Flyfishers, the symposium will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free and refreshments will be provided. For information, call 587-4509.


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