Our Wild & Scenic River

“I am foremost a person of the Yuba River Country in the Sierra Nevada.”
—Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Gary Snyder

Our region is known worldwide as home to Lake Tahoe, “the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” as Mark Twain wrote in Roughing It. Tahoe is one of the oldest, deepest and purist lakes in the world.

Lesser known, but also spectacular, is the wild and scenic South Yuba River, which originates at Donner Pass, near Soda Springs. The 65-mile river runs west, shadowed by I-80 and Old Hwy. 40. Then it flows into Lake Spaulding, plunges into a magnificent ravine and flows past the Little Town of Washington, historic Nevada City and Bridgeport on the way to Englebright Reservoir.

In 1999, 39 miles of the South Yuba achieved “wild and scenic” status under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, thanks to the efforts of the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) and others. The Act was passed in 1972 to preserve “designated rivers possess- ing extraordinary scenic, recreation, fishery, or wildlife values.” Other pro- tected rivers include stretches of the American, Eel, Klamath, McCloud, Smith and Trinity.

Besides being one of America’s most beautiful stretches of water, the South Yuba is an “economic engine.” Each year, more than 750,000 people visit the Yuba’s deep emerald swimming holes, beaches and trails. Some of the Yuba’s swimming holes are rated among the world’s best, rivaling cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula, waterfalls and jade pools in Asia, and freshwater pools in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

The South Yuba has inspired famous poets, musicians and artists, such as Gary Snyder, who won a Pulitzer Prize with Turtle Island, or fiddler Alasdair Fraser, whose song “Whitewater” is an ode to the Yuba.

The Yuba watershed has been the longtime home of some nationally known figures, including Snyder, Fraser, conservationist John Olmsted and Michael Funk, co-founder of United Natural Foods Inc., the nation’s leading organic food distributor.

Funk lives along a stretch of the Yuba River that is nothing short of magical. “I wanted to put roots in real deep and be here the rest of my life,” Funk said in a feature in Mother Earth Living.

Snyder lives “off the grid” on the San Juan Ridge in a homestead called Kitkitdizze (named for a local plant). Part Japanese farmhouse, part Indian lodge, it was built with ponderosa pine and cedar, and stones from the Yuba River.

The Yuba is at the heart of western Nevada County’s lifestyle. It is pictured on a mural on the historic Del Oro Theatre in Grass Valley by trompe l’oeil artist John Pugh. In Nevada City, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. is named after the three forks of the Yuba. During the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, colorful Yuba River salmon are painted on storefronts in both towns. We dedicate this issue to Yuba River Country.

(Poet Gary Snyder poses outside a wood shed at Kitkitdizze, circa 1990s. Photo: Christopher Felver/CORBIS)

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