Friday, August 7, 2015

The New Tuolumne River Trail is Coming!

In one sense, this is a local story, about a trail that I can walk to from my house. On the other, it is of interest to anyone who travels into the region, on their way to Yosemite and other more famous tourist destinations in the central Sierra Nevada. It's about the Tuolumne River.
The Tuolumne River is a treasure. It is longer than the Merced River, it once had the largest glaciers in the entire range, and comparatively speaking, despite the many reservoirs on its various forks, it has some of the wildest stretches of river in the Sierra. It has the grandest canyon that hardly anyone knows about (seriously, the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona) as well as the most scenic and popular area of Yosemite National Park outside of the valley (Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass).  Downstream, it has some of the most important riparian habitats in the Great Valley.
I live right at the spot where the river flows from the Sierra Nevada foothills into the Great Valley. The two-mile long stretch of river that flows through my small town has languished for years, with a small neglected river park, and trails of use that led to piles of garbage and transient camps. The city government has been interested in changing that situation and now it's happening. With funds from a state proposition (84), they are constructing a river trail from one end of town to the other, a path that will include accessible trails, rejuvenated and protected riparian habitat, interpretative signs, and recreational opportunities like river access for kayaks and small boats.

One could say that this is development that will spoil the natural aspect of the river, but in fact the river hasn't been natural for some time, given the invasive species and animals that have moved in along with the trash. As the park is completed, the invasive species will be removed and replaced by native species. Ultimately the river will be a healthier environment, and a lot closer to a natural condition than before. And people will be able to learn about the natural habitat during their explorations and recreational activities. It's a good trade-off.
I went down there yesterday to have a look around, and the trails were all plowed and staked out. Employees told me they expect to finish around the beginning of October. I couldn't be happier.
I've been documenting the bird species along the river for the past year at my other blog, Geotripper's California Birds. Yesterday I got to add a mammal to the list. As I was wandering about on the downstream end of the trail, a Gray Fox came bounding down the cliff with lunch in its mouth. I only had a few seconds to get a couple of shots before it disappeared into the river willows.
There are dozens of species of birds living or migrating through, depending on the time of year. Yesterday I caught some shots of a Black-chinned Hummingbird for only the second time.
I almost always come across a group (a "discernment") of Acorn Woodpeckers. There are some gigantic ancient Valley Oak trees along this stretch of the river.
The Western Kingbird (below) is present during spring and summer, but migrates south to Mexico and Costa Rica during the winter.
The Western Bluebird is present for much of the year.
The Tree Swallow migrates into the area for the spring and summer as well. It winters farther south, in the southern tier states, and in Central America as far as Panama.
The western end of the park is on an undeveloped bluff that offers a marvelous view of the river with the Sierra Nevada beyond. A stairwell will provide access to a parking area on the bluff. Geologically, the upper part of the trail includes some of the Sierra Nevada's Miocene volcanic rocks, including the Valley Springs formation and the Mehrten. Downstream, the bluffs are composed of glacial outwash deposits, probably including the Turlock Lake and Riverbank formations.
I'm looking forward to this wonderful addition to our community, and I hope you'll stop and check it out when you are on your way to more famous places. The river has a lot to teach you.

If you want to learn more details, the city has posted their plans and environment studies here:

1 comment:

Shane Hedberg said...

A gray fox! Wow. With lunch in his/her mouth, no less. Fantastic.