MaLode Celebrates Conservancy’s 20th

The MaLode crew helped the American River Conservancy celebrate its 20th Anniversary at the Starthistle Ball on October 10th, 2009. After purchasing two tables to support the cause, we showed up in force. This delightful event featured music, feasting, tasting of local wines, a presentation by the Conservancy’s Executive Director, Alan Ehrgott, and the first screening of ARC’s new historical video. As one of the most successful organizations of its kind, the ARC had lots to celebrate. Here is a list of just a few of its accomplishments to date : the preservation of 10,000 riparian acres and growing; this coming Spring, the opening of 21 miles of the American River Trail stretching from Coloma to Folsom Lake; and finally, still in process, the preservation of the first Japanese settlement in America, the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony in Coloma.

One “belle” of the Ball was the ARC’s new video, produced by local Emmy Award winning videographer Janice Stanley of Todd Stanley Productions. Her exceptional skills were in evidence as she helped portray the remarkable story of how the ARC was formed and how so much was accomplished against such great odds.

The story begins in the early 1970s when the South Fork of the American River first achieved its status as one of the premier and most popular whitewater rivers in North America. In those days the very existence of the river was threatened by two dams (the SOFAR Project) that would have destroyed both the Chili Bar and Gorge whitewater runs on the South Fork. Fortunately an intrepid “band of boaters” represented by Friends of the River, The American River Recreation Association, the outfitters, and such familiar figures as Bill Center and Scott Underwood who appear in the video to tell the tale, worked together to defeat that project only to discover that saving the river was only part of the story. In those days only 30% of the river’s riparian zone was protected from development, and by the late 1980s not only were over 150,000 whitewater boaters visiting the Coloma Valley, so were the bulldozers!

Local whitewater photographer, Mark Leder-Adams, hiking over the hills above the South Fork, was only too aware of these threats to the river and documented them in his stunning photographs. It was Mark who first proposed the formation of the American River Conservancy and in a truly inspired moment, the founders chose Alan Ehrgott to be its Executive Director. Aided by the vision and dedication of the Bureau of Land Management’s local Director, Deane Swickard, Alan has guided to successful conclusion one land deal after another involving County, State and Federal Agencies, NGOs, private donors and has invested himself a lot of blood, sweat and tears to bring us to where we are today. That is, just the reverse of where we were 20 years ago, with over 70% of the South Fork’s riparian zone now protected for future generations to enjoy as recreational space, wildlife habitat and the source of clean, fresh, drinkable water.

Other than Alan himself, I am now the Conservancy’s longest serving Board Member and one of my functions is to serve as the Board’s institutional memory. Given that, believe me when I say that limitations of space and time resulted in only a small number of the people who most deserve credit for the success of the Conservancy over the years being mentioned in the film. I remember Sue Britting’s expertise, untiring dedication and sound judgment. Past President Carla Soracco was a tireless advocate of the education programs and the Conservancy’s largest private donor. Manny and Martha DeAquino gave us soul and typified the hundreds of intrepid and selfless volunteers. The list is very long indeed. Suffice it to say there is plenty of credit to go around for a tremendous team effort by a community dedicated to the preservation of its essential heritage for future generations. Best wishes, thanks for all the good work, and a huge Happy Birthday and Merry 20th Anniversary to the American River Conservancy!

Scott Underwood the RiverDoc

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