River Trails: A New Concept on the American River

The opening of the American River Trail in Coloma provides exciting new hiking access to over twenty miles of riverside trails along the banks of the South Fork of the American River in Coloma, California. In addition to hiking access, this new trail will also provide mountain bikers and equestrians with a new trailhead.

This spring Mother Lode River Trips will continue to provide a new way to enjoy the Trail and the exciting whitewater rapids of the American River itself. Called “River Trails” the adventure begins at the Mother Lode River Center which is located a short distance from the American River Trial’s easternmost trailhead. You will depart the River Center on a guided hike downstream of approximately 5 miles that will cover some of the Trail’s most beautiful terrain. You will stroll over rolling hills, through forested canopies of oaks, pines and cedars, and never be far from the banks of the river with its refreshing upstream breeze. At the hike’s end you will be treated to a hearty lunch and refreshing drinks delivered by gear boat to the lunch spot.

The excitement now begins to build, as the hikers witness the arrival of a line of state-of-the-art, self-bailing rafts each of which is being solo guided, canoe style, by an expert whitewater professional. Personal Floatation Devices are fitted, a safety briefing is performed, and the whitewater excitement begins as the hikers are transformed into whitewater rafters. Ahead lies the South Fork’s most popular whitewater run, the “Gorge”, which is filled with exciting Class II and III level rapids suitable for beginners and yet thrilling for all.

For those interested in a longer, overnight adventure, camping is available either in the luxurious riverside Mother Lode River Center with its tent cabins, flush toilets and hot showers, or, alternatively, wilderness camping is an option. In both cases delicious home cooked meals are provided that rival grandma’s home cooking and the friendly and knowledgeable Mother Lode guides share natural history interpretation of the flora, fauna, geology and human history of the region. Speaking of history, these trips all include gold panning instruction in the very area that attracted the 49ers and helped make California a State. With any luck you will cry Eureka too!

Remember it as “River Trails.”  This river trip is found exclusively at the Mother Lode River Center, your Geotourism portal to the American River.

Lowering Our Carbon Emissions!

Jan 2009 Greenhouse Action Plan Progress Report.
In 2008, the GAP helped bring about many changes around camp here on the American River, and we are happy to report a significant reduction in total carbon emissions per guest (people who stayed but did not participate in our whitewater rafting, ropes course or other outdoor education programs were not counted). In 2007, we measured the three major causes of our carbon emissions–gas and diesel, electricity, and propane consumption–at 44.8 tons for 5713 people, or 15.68 lbs per person. In 2008, we reduced that total to 32.1 tons for 5869 people, or 10.94 lbs per person, which is over 30% less emissions, surpassing our first stated goal of a 20% reduction by 2012.

How we did it: The overall reduction in emissions was accomplished in a variety of ways. In our first article introducing the GAP, we presented a mitigation strategy addressing specific ways we could reduce our carbon impact. Here, we’ll look at that list again and check out which of those strategies we adopted, and those we did not.

Electrical Use:
*Adjusted electrical thermostats in office (2007.)
*Turned off lights and appliances more conscientiously when not in use (2007).
*Changed procedures to reduce use (2008–work in small room in the office in winter, so it’s easier to heat.)
*Replaced as many lights as possible with compact fluorescent bulbs (2008)
*Replaced appliances with energy efficient ones. (2008—bought new Energy Star rated refrigerator for house, high efficiency space heater in office)
*Install solar panels. (2008—Solar Energy Exploratorium had off-the-grid photovoltaic/battery system installed. Plans to install more PV power in 2009 and beyond with goal of being a net generator of electricity.)

Place timers on shower lights (not yet implemented)
Install solar/ gravity battery system based around climbing wall (not yet implemented)

1= 2006, 15.53 tons CO2 emissions
2= 2007, 12.68 tons CO2 emissions
3= 2008, 9.31 tons CO2 emissions

Propane Use:
*Turned down hot water heaters (2007)
*Augmented water heater with solar heating (2008—built and installed 28,500 BTU in-line solar thermal hot water heater for main kitchen.)
*Adjusted thermostat in house (2007)
*Used cooking devices more conscientiously (2007)

Place timers on showers (not yet implemented)
Install even lower flow shower heads (not yet implemented)
Transition to flash heaters and have no heated water storage (rejected in favor of solar thermal systems)
Restrict shower use to overnight guests (rejected as a less than customer friendly policy)
Eliminate mobile home (rejected for now)
Convert mobile home to new form of heat (not yet implemented)

1= 2006, 6.05 tons CO2 emissions
2= 2007, 8.64 tons CO2 emissions
3= 2008, 3.5 tons CO2 emissions

Gasoline Consumed By Us:
*Bought more fuel efficient vehicle for errands (purchased post season in 2008— 100% Waste Vegetable Oil powered 1996 VW Passat tdi station wagon. Minimal impact on diesel use so far, however, the mileage is 40-50 mpg versus 16-20 mpg for Toyota truck and minivan. Use of WVO will reduce carbon emissions to 70% less than using a Prius!)
*Replaced gasoline vehicles with waste vegetable oil vehicles (2008— 100% WVO powered Ecobus purchased and brought on line; 2005 Dodge truck converted to 100% WVO system). Note: The amount of WVO use in 2008 was limited by technical issues with the Dodge’s WVO system as well as WVO supply limitations. Expect dramatic improvements next year. We were unable to find an appropriate “people mover” minibus.

Reduce the number of small rafting trips by consolidating (customers not cooperating so far)
Reduce shopping trips by using vendors who deliver (this is more difficult to implement if we want organic, locally grown food which vendors don’t handle)

1= Gas Bus 2= Dodge Truck 3=Toyota Truck 4= Vans 5= Flatbed Truck
Total Gas/Diesel Used: 2228.5 gallons
Total Gas/Diesel CO2 Emissons: 23.5 tons

1= Ecobus 2= Dodge Truck 3=Toyota Truck 4= Vans
Total Gas/Diesel Used: 2042.5 gallons
Total Gas/Diesel CO2 Emissions: 19.3 tons

Gasoline Consumed By Customers:
Encourage carpooling and hybrid vehicles by incentive parking (not yet implemented)
Sell or give away T-shirts to encourage carpooling (not yet implemented)
Reward hybrid owners by letting them eat first (rejected as a poor idea)
Provide electrical hookups for plug-in hybrids (not yet implemented)
Facilitate bus and or ECO- Bus transportation for groups (not yet implemented)
Shuttle groups from public transportation terminals with ECO-Bus (not yet implemented)

Food Program:

*Served more vegetables, less meat (2008)
*Produced fruit and vegetables organically on site (2008)
*Wasted less food (2008)
*Conscientiously bought food with less paper and plastic packaging (2008)
*Enlarged garden (2008)

Property Maintenance:
Replace gasoline water pump with solar electric pump (more practical to use grid connected solar to produce electricity for existing well pump- pending)

Recycling/Waste Control Program:

*Created system to increase compliance and decrease labor/risks of recycling employees (completed post season 2008 and will see more impact in 2009)

Create System and/or conscientiously use less paper (not yet imp
Go paperless on reservations and in every way possible (progress has occurred but not yet fully implemented)

Political Action:
Another less measurable, but perhaps the most important way in which we are combating human induced climate change is by raising the awareness of our guests and encouraging those who are interested to actively participate in the political process with us. Part of this strategy is letter writing, a long standing and extremely effective Malode tradition. This year we sent off around 500 letters written our guests in support of the solar investment tax credit bill, which was successfully passed later in the year! Another strategy we use is to educate our guests about this issue in a fun and stimulating way. Our new sustainable practices programs include hands on activities that explore solar power, alternative fuels, organic gardening, recycling, and other means of conservation.

Beyond the GAP:
As stated at the outset of the GAP, we realize that it is not enough to address human induced climate change alone. There are other urgent environmental challenges that also need our attention. The most dramatic of these is rainforest destruction. Sustainable Practices Program will begin to address these in 2009.

MaLode Letter Writers Support Successful Federal and State Legislation

For those of us prone to nail-biting, it has been a rough few months, what with the impending election and the economic crisis. However, at Mother Lode, we’re feeling pretty optimistic and excited about the future. The River Center, as always, inspires us to stay positive and look for practical solutions, and we know that there is more exciting, important work to do than ever before! Let’s take a minute to enjoy the things that Mother Lode customers and staff achieved this summer.

First and foremost, we had a LOT of fun on the American River this summer—in an eco-friendly way unparalleled by any other company. Hundreds of people rode our waste-veggie oil bus and used our WVO truck for our whitewater rafting trips on the South Fork, Middle Fork and North Fork of the American River. We used hot water and energy powered by solar panels at camp, and we ate great organic veggies from the garden.

After reading the nationwide bestseller Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, with its premise that children today grow up suffering “nature-deficit disorder,” we at Mother Lode felt even more adamant about our mission of bringing children (and adults) into the outdoors. We just tallied it up and it turns out that 2056 children participated in our Outdoor Education Programs this year! We were thrilled when the No Child Left Inside Act was approved by the House Committee in June. We hope it reflects our nation’s growing awareness of the importance of outdoor education and will result in more opportunities for children to go outside to play and learn.

This summer, we also advocated for making California and the U.S.A. more earth-friendly and sustainable. At the Federal level, Mother Lode customers and staff wrote letters to President Bush, both candidates for President and our U.S. Senators and Representatives about the Federal Solar Energy Tax Credit. This tax credit was intended to provide the financial support and market forces to help foster the emergence and use of solar energy. It had worked in the last two years, creating almost 20,000 high quality new jobs, and if renewed, it was projected to create 20,000 more, and produce up to 3881 Megawatts of energy (one megawatt of electricity can power between 400 and 900 homes in a year).

The legislation to extend this tax incentive for eight years was in limbo for months, with the solar industry holding its breath to see whether it would get the financial support needed to proceed in future solar projects and investments with confidence. But finally, on October 3rd, the most significant federal policy ever enacted for the solar industry was passed along with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The legislation ensures a 30% federal investment tax credit for both residential and commercial solar installations for 8 years. No matter how we feel about the bailout, this is a silver lining to celebrate in hard times, and Mother Lode customers had a part in supporting it.

We also wrote to the California Senate Education Committee regarding California State Senator Loni Hancock’s Bill 2855, which will make funds available for training high school students and other young people in emerging green technologies such as wind and solar power. This was recently signed into law by the Governor.

So, all in all, a satisfying summer! And as the famous physician and biologist Jonas Salk said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.”

Big Day on the Chilibar

Another Big day on the American River as 60 incoming Freshman to St. Mary’s in the bay area decided to join us for some whitewater rafting on the Chilibar run. The group arrived the night before to enjoy a scrumptious dinner and camp out under the stars.

Waking up bright and early the next morning, they packed down a breakfast of our scrambled eggs, pancakes, fruit and sausage to make sure they had plenty of energy for their adventure!

The group also enjoyed riding out to the river on our Waste Vegetable Oil Eco Bus, and then of course an exciting and amusing day on the river. We heard the phrase “best field trip ever!” several times throughout the day.

Solar Trifecta Comes to Mother Lode

What is a Solar Trifecta? This is it!

Picturesque is not what you necessarily think of when you mention solar power, yet this view of Highway One just south of Monterey is about as close as it gets. How is it a “Solar Trifecta”? Check this out:

First, the Dodge truck you see here pulling the trailer is soon to become the main gear shuttle vehicle for our American River rafting expeditions this season. It is currently completing its conversion to 100% waste vegetable oil (WVO) at GreaseKings in Sacramento and will join the EcoBus as the first 100% WVO powered whitewater river rafting transportation system in use on the American River. Similar to EcoBus, this truck requires the installation of a second fuel tank to contain the WVO, an electrically controlled fuel management valve to switch from the Diesel#2 fuel tank to the WVO tank, a countercurrent exchange system to heat the WVO, and a special filter system to both heat and purify the WVO before it enters the sensitive fuel management system of the Cummins turbodiesel engine of this 2005 Dodge Ram 4×4 pickup. Also similar to EcoBus, using 100% WVO will achieve an 80% reduction is greenhouse gas emissions. However, this improvement will occur not only for our rafting shuttles but for food shopping and errands, all while achieving approximately 17 miles per gallon of WVO. Amazingly, this is better mileage than we get with our current Toyota T-100 with a V6 gasoline engine. Not only will we be saving carbon, our mean fuel cost for WVO is 50 cents per gallon or approximately one tenth the current cost of petro products!

Second element in the Trifecta: six solar hot water heating panels hidden in the bed of the truck. Our solar guru and benefactor, Allen Carrozza, is generously loaning them to the River Center to expand our solar hot water heating and educational opportunities. These panels will reduce the propane required to heat hot water for showers, etc., all by a whopping 73%.

Third in the Trifecta is the object under the cover on the trailer behind the truck. Yes, its “PLUGRIN”, the electric car we are transporting from Santa Barbara that is being lent to us by Dorothy Pearce. It will be recharged from the photovoltaic panels attached to the front of the Solar Energy Exploratorium. This four passenger car has a range of 35 miles, a top speed of 25 mph and will be used to draw attention to the SEE as well as to run errands to Coloma. Such cars are of increasing interest and a similar car, the “ZEN” or Zero Emissions Neighborhood car, was recently featured on the front page of the Sacramento Bee. With gas prices rising above $4 per gallon, interest in electric cars is no longer academic.

We now will be able to collect vegetable oil from local restaurants in Coloma with an electric car, recharge the car with our PV panels, then power our larger vehicles with the WVO. Solar power makes the electricity to power the electric car, solar energy creates the vegetable oil through photosynthesis, solar energy from the panels will heat the water that warms the WVO while we refine it. A solar scenario that’s renewable, cheap and near zero carbon emissons. The Solar Trifecta, and you saw it first here at Mother Lode!