“The people in this room aren’t like other people,” said award-winning outdoor writer Tom Stienstra. “We don’t have blood in our veins, we have river water.”
Thus began Stienstra’s animated ode to California rivers in general and to the Tuolumne River in particular. Stienstra, who may know California’s many rivers as well as anyone, calls the Tuolumne the “Mighty T,” and claims it’s the premier river in the state.
Stienstra’s praise for the Tuolumne didn’t meet any resistance from the members of his audience who had gathered at San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel last Thursday to celebrate acquisition of the Dos Rios Ranch in Stanislaus County. The 1600 acre purchase at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin Rivers will provide six miles of river front property, most of which will be restored to reflect its natural riparian values.
Guests included members of the Tuolumne River Trust (TRT), three generations of the Bill and Mary Lyons family, and representatives from River Partners and the Firedoll Foundation. The Lyons family sold the property after a decade of weekly negotiations with the TRT and others.
Most of the negotiations were between Bill Lyons Jr. and Patrick Koepele, Deputy Executive Director of the TRT. The marathon of brain-storming and bargaining featured an almost impossible dream to acquire and restore a large parcel of riverfront property that would then become a public legacy. Somehow, it happened.
Funding was acquired from a wide variety of sources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Resources Legacy Fund, and many more.
Stienstra and other speakers regaled the crowd with fish stories (forty pound bass!), harrowing tales of near drowning, and sentimental memories of sunsets and river sounds. The water-savvy crowd included the bartender, who responded to requests for water with, “One ‘Tears of Hetch-Hetchy’ coming up.”
And while the festivities were about achieving an almost impossible dream, they were also about moving forward. Already the TRT has committed to restoration of the Dos Rios. Experts from River Partners, who’ve been working for years just across the river at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, have already begun selecting plots designated for restoration of the riparian forest and wetlands.
Speakers from the TRT reminded the audience that its annual “Paddle to the Sea” event is intended to emphasize the interconnectedness of people who depend on rivers, but this crowd probably didn’t need to be reminded. Members clearly view the river as a bond that unites people from Tuolumne Meadows to the city of San Francisco and beyond, both spiritually and politically.
It’s a bond unlikely to be broken even by today’s free market buccaneers and their relentless raids on public resources. There are few forces as powerful as a living river. The Tuolumne River Trust and its allies have channeled that force to strengthen public commitment to the eternal values of river protection and conservation. They’re moving forward.