Thursday, 02 August 2012 21:20

Officials, Public Discuss Commercial Rafting on Upper Mokelumne River

Amador County – In a public input session Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management heard from scores of locals on what they would like studied before permitting commercial river guide operations on the Upper Mokelumne River.

Amador County Supervisor John Plasse asked the BLM if they were coordinating with local government as they begin National Environmental Protection Agency procedures for the potential commercial activities on the Mokelumne River. Plasse said he did not feel like he had been coordinated with.

BLM Planner Jeff Horn said he spoke with County Administrative Officer Chuck Iley and: “You’re here, aren’t you?” He said the Bureau does things differently. They invite everyone to give input on the beginning stage toward study of the permitting, and invited comments by Aug. 15.

Tracey Towner, ACRA executive director, said the plan to use a lottery to choose five commercial river guides seemed like it would just bring in American River Outfitters, and people from Sacramento. She said it would be good to bring in O.A.R.S. of Angels Camp, or to have a local company open. She did not see it benefitting Amador.

Members of Calaveras Business & Visitors Bureau and Calaveras Chamber of Commerce supported opening the Moke River, saying visitors would spend money locally.

O.A.R.S. founder and president, George Wendt said commercial rafting brought in big spenders, who spend in the community. His drivers are professional, and good stewards, respectful of Indian areas where willows are gathered for traditional basket making. He was also excited about educational opportunities. He said the National Hotel, reopening Aug. 1, after a remodel, was the kind of business he could see partnering with.

Calaveras District 2 Supervisor Steve Wilensky said “there is no more iconic place in my district than the Mokelumne River.” He said the three-year “study should be about how to mitigate every possible hazard.” He rode with O.A.R.S. down Stanislaus River canyon before it became New Melones Lake, and its staff lectured him to leave no trace, and made him pick up after himself.

Wilensky urged the planner to have guides point out Native American willows but never stop, and “a lot of people not here tonight would say that over and over again.” He said commercial boating draws a higher-end clientele.

Pete Bell said the river run from Electra Road to the Middle Bar take-out takes about 2 hours with 700 cubic-feet-per-second flows from PG&E, and he has never seen anyone stop and take lunch on the trip.

Wendt said O.A.R.S. currently is permitted to take three charity-only trips a year on the Level 2 rapids of the Upper Moke. They have held rides the last nine years, including benefits for Foothill Conservancy, and Calaveras Youth Mentoring.

Story by Jim Reece.