“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy.” – John C. Sawhill, The Nature Conservancy
When we describe the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers as being wild and scenic, we aren’t just talking. Paddling through Grey’s Grindstone or Ram’s Head rapid during spring high water is as close to the definition of wild as you can get. Part of what makes these places special is the fact that they remain much as they have been for centuries. Spending some extended time on a remote section of river often leads to a desire to protect and preserve these places in their pristine state.
We aren’t the only ones who have recognized the unique power and beauty of these rivers. Sections of the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers have both been been officially designated by Congress as part of the U.S. National Wild & Scenic River System. Similar to the National Park System, the National Wild & Scenic River System was set up to protect certain rivers for the benefit of all Americans and for future generations. Selected rivers in the United States are preserved for possessing outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values. Rivers, or sections of rivers, so designated are preserved in their free-flowing condition and are not dammed or otherwise impeded. Less than one quarter of 1 percent of our rivers are protected under the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Compare that with the fact that more than 75,000 large dams across the country have modified at least 600,000 miles, or about 17 percent, of American rivers.
In 1968, after years of damming and development on our country’s rivers, citizens and legislators began to recognize the damage we were inflicting on wildlife, the landscape, and our drinking water. This led to action by Congress to preserve the beauty and free-flowing nature of some of our most precious waterways. After the Stanislaus River was dammed in 1979, Sierra Mac was part of an effort to protect other rivers in the state from suffering a similar fate. We joined with others in a grassroots campaign that was successful in gaining Wild and Scenic status for the Tuolumne River in 1981 and the Merced River in 1986. These efforts led to the birth of the organization Friends of the River, whose mission is to preserve and restore California’s rivers, streams, and their watersheds, as well as to advocate for sustainable water management. Since their inception, Friends of the River has been successful in protecting and restoring rivers and watersheds throughout the State of California.
Images by Tim Palmer from his book: Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy. timpalmer.org/books_by_tim
Ours to Preserve
America’s rivers and their wildness are part of our shared cultural and natural national heritage. They belong to all of us. From Lewis & Clark to John Wesley Powell and Huckleberry Finn, America has always celebrated her rivers. Even if you never get to visit the Tuolumne or Merced Rivers, it is important to know they are there – and will continue to be there – with their wildness intact for future generations to ponder and enjoy. Sierra Mac supports the work of several grassroots organizations dedicated to protecting and preserving rivers.
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire