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Rivers running through our winter projects

By Dup Crosson, Development Director

Rivers are a big part of how I see the world, and my work here at CalWild. Whenever I’m poring over maps for a paddle trip, a hike, or helping with CalWild field work, my eyes are always drawn to the contours of the land that form our watersheds. I love discovering where headwaters start, what paths a river will cut into a landscape over time, and how a tiny uplift or ridge can separate two significant drainages (like the Mad and Van Duzen Rivers).

Lately, CalWild is engaging in a lot of rivers work, so I’ve had the chance to further explore and spread the word of the work we do in this realm. Even though we are the only statewide group working on every wild and scenic campaign in California, our organization is often only recognized as a wilderness group working on land protection, especially by our long-established supporters. This makes sense given the 13+ million acres of public lands we’ve helped protect, but wild and scenic rivers have been included in every piece of legislation we’ve worked on since the 1980s.

Last month, I attended the 2023 BoatSmith Whitewater Festival held at Patrick’s Creek Lodge in Gasquet, which is on the Smith River near the Oregon border. We talked whitewater runs, timber harvests, and mining claims with paddlers from across the west who come to this glorious watershed – the largest undammed river system in the state –  to see just what wild and scenic rivers have to offer.

The impossibly clear waters of the Smith River

Salmon are always part of these conversations. They are keystone species upon which so much depends, and the towns along the Smith understand how integral salmon health is to their economic and ecological health. I was lucky enough to see one jumping up a rapid when I paddled from the Lodge down to the confluence of the North Fork on day one. As a paddler, it’s crazy enough to think of all the upstream swimming they do, but their multi-thousand-mile commutes astound me completely.

Our documentary star Kayla Lopez hamming it up for CalWild at BoatSmith

Recreationists like whitewater paddlers often understand the importance of conservation even if they don’t always have the words for it – they recognize that most of the time, better protections mean better access and outdoor opportunities. CalWild always makes sure such opportunities are ground-truthed and equitable, so we attend events like BoatSmith to help connect the dots with supporters. We work to assure that public land and water protections are in the best interest of all communities, and help human citizens understand the consequences of proposed protections ­and the potential losses from threats.

CalWild’s Wild Rivers Director Steve Evans and Representative Jared Huffman on set for 6,000 Miles

The other major project we’ve been working on is our forthcoming 6,000 Miles documentary. Produced by ColorFool Films, we’ve partnered with American Whitewater on this short film to show the deep connection between our rivers and the advocacy needed to save them. The film highlights the passion of NorCal paddler Kayla Lopez through her “soul river”, the Trinity, alongside the tireless work of CalWild’s Steve Evans as he leads our Wild Rivers Project to designate thousands of miles of new wild rivers.

With 6,000 Miles, we’re thrilled to focus on the Trinity since it’s a recreation haven, it’s largely wild and scenic already, and Rep. Huffman’s bill will designate many more miles along the North and South Forks.

Special thanks to our Presentation-level sponsors HiPark for their significant support of this documentary

The film will premiere at the Bioneers conference in Berkeley on April 7th (tickets can be found here). Stay tuned for more chances to see the film in your area this spring and summer.

More thanks to our other 6,000 Miles sponsors Alpacka Raft, NRS, Klean Kanteen, Sawyer, and Sunski.