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On the River with River Partners

By Irv Schiffman

Debbie Hatch on River Parters' 10th paddling trip, Sacramento River. Photo by Jay Hatch.

On a relatively mild Saturday this past July, I joined about 50 paddlers on a River Partners canoe ride down the Sacramento River. River Partners began organizing these paddling excursions five years ago and my trip was the tenth one in the series. The trips are free community events in which participants provide their own canoes or kayaks and are prepared to paddle from six to 12 miles depending on the route. The rides are usually down the Sacramento River but they have gone down the Feather, Stanislaus, and Bear rivers as well.

Paddling the region’s waterways provides an intimate experience with the great outdoors, a chance to know the river, to see how it sculpts the landscape and, perhaps equally important, a great upper-body workout. River otters and bald eagles are among the wildlife that have been spotted in and along the waterway. A more expansive learning experience takes place when participants disembark onto a site that is a River Partner’s restoration project.

My excursion departed from the Drumheller restoration project, a 226 acre property which is part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and across from the old Princeton Ferry in Colusa County. River Partners started restoring the site in 2004. Once a failing prune orchard, it is now a riparian forest of sycamores, cottonwoods, black willows and valley oaks as well as fields of native grasses.

After some time on the swift flowing river we arrived at our takeout point, a newly acquired site called Willow Bend. River Partners purchased these 150 floodprone sloping acres so as to continue an existing riparian corridor. Here we ate our lunches while Tom Griggs, our senior restoration ecologist and Helen Swagerty, senior restoration biologist, discussed the ecology of the site along with plans for its restoration.

From the two scientists we learned that while dams on the Sacramento had modified the river system, at Willow Bend it is still possible to see natural processes at work. For instance, we observed how bands of willows captured the shifting sand and gravel during high river flows to build the gravel bar or beach on which we sat. We could see how the river was meandering westward and, looking upward, we could view how riparian plant succession had taken place across the restoration site.

Michael Rogner, a restoration biologist, discussed how wildlife is attracted to our restoration sites and detailed the particular birds that might be visiting Willow Bend. After lunch, Tom led participants on a walking tour of the site, pointing out its native and non-native flora.

These Saturday excursions are intended to familiarize community members with the work of the organization as well as invite paddlers to join us as a “River Partner.” In the last five years over 500 folks have signed up for our canoe rides and we hope to continue these recreational and educational ventures for many Saturdays to come.

The above article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of the River Partners Journal.