Truckee students get lesson in sustainability at Yuba River Day

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Last Friday, October 6, more than 60 children participated in Donner Trail Elementary School’s annual Yuba River Day event.

Truckee Trails Foundations teaching students about sustainability, erosion, and snow/water impacts on trails.
Provided / Amy King

The Yuba River, a Californian gem, features polished granite rocks and emerald waters. It offers both exhilarating whitewater experiences in spring and serene swimming spots in warmer seasons.

Emerging from the Tahoe National Forest, the North, Middle, and South Forks of the Yuba River boast unique features against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada. They also bear the historical marks of mining and hydropower endeavors.

Once a bustling gold rush hub, the Yuba River area transformed into a major hydraulic mining site before its prohibition. Today, it’s marked by over 30 dams, 20 powerhouses, and 500 miles of canals.

This region allures paddlers from the West with exceptional whitewater adventures. The undammed North Fork offers spectacular views from Sierra Buttes to Mt. Shasta and Mt. Diablo. Snowmelt sustains diverse aquatic life, including trout, Chinook salmon, and steelhead.

Designated a state Wild and Scenic River, the South Fork Yuba anchors the South Yuba River State Park, flowing 20 miles to Englebright Reservoir. The Pacific Crest Trail and other routes cater to backpackers, while a network of mountain bike trails entices enthusiasts. The local “Yuba Nation” of artists, poets, and musicians convenes for inspiration and advocacy.

The Yuba River watershed houses some of California’s earliest hydropower dams, dating back to the gold rush era. These dams obstruct access for anadromous fish in the 1,339-square-mile watershed, a vital stronghold for Chinook salmon and steelhead.

Dams owned by entities like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Yuba County Water Agency, Nevada Irrigation District, and Pacific Gas & Electric impact over 250 miles of rivers, altering flow, habitats, and affecting local wildlife.

Due to the threat posed by these dams, the Yuba River was included in the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report for 2011. Remnants from hydraulic mining operations remain visible along the river, with ongoing restoration efforts, particularly in the altered Lower Yuba River area.

This is just a glimpse into the rich history of the Yuba River, underscoring its value as a precious resource worth preserving. Amy King, in her first year as principal at Donner Elementary, firmly believes in the transformative potential of Yuba River Day in educating and influencing young minds.

“It’s a community day where we are interacting with different organizations in the community and it’s important for kids to see how our environment impacts our learning and learning impacts our environment,” King said.  

The event featured stations where children were grouped across different grade levels, ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade. Truckee Trails Foundation educated them on trail sustainability, emphasizing the importance of accounting for erosion and the impacts of snow and water on the trails.

In time, the children will even be involved in constructing their own running trail. Headwaters Science Institute, a local nonprofit focused on science education, led the kids in a water flow activity and set up a station for algae collection to monitor long-term changes in the river. Motivated by the work of local environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, the children turned natural elements into art by converting rocks into mandalas.

Additionally, the kids received training in plant identification and had the opportunity to examine plant cells under microscopes. Lastly, they participated in a physical education game that simulated the predator-prey dynamic found in the wild.

Kids examining plant cells under microscopes.
Provided / Amy King

With the Yuba River so close to Donner Elementary, children have ample opportunity to connect with nature and grasp the importance of preserving and caring for our environment. And this foundational knowledge can be passed down to future generations.

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