Off the Beaten Path: An Adventure Along the Mokelumne River

Mokelumne River California

Photo by Jackie Richardson

As an avid local day hiker I always longed for a bit more of an adventure. At the end of this summer I had the opportunity to take my very first backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the Sierra Nevada mountain range for a real off the beaten path experience.

Little did I know that I was hiking right along the Mokelumne Watershed, which links to the San Francisco Bay! The Mokelumne River begins in the Sierra Nevada, flows through the foothills across the Central Valley and into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which empties into the San Francisco Bay. Not only does it supply most of the East Bay’s residents their drinking water through the Mokelumne Aqueduct, but it also provides clean water to a thriving San Francisco Bay.

Pictured at the top right was the first stop, Lower Kinney Lake of Mokelumne Watershed. Kinney Lakes are actually a trio of reservoirs along Ebbetts Pass where you can often find PCT hikers camping out for a night. Once I arrived at Lower Kinney Lake I couldn’t believe how serene and clean the glass-like water appeared.

Mokelumne River

Photo by Jackie Richardson

While both preparing and hiking along the watershed I learned a few do’s and don’ts of backpacking (from a first timer’s perspective) highlighted below:


  • Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. I was surprised to find out how long it took to prepare my pack due to the limited amount of space.
  • Research! Be sure you have an idea of exactly what you need for your trip from tents and sleeping bags to freeze dried food.
  • Get fitted for your pack. This is one of the most important things I learned while getting ready for my trip. Have a professional fit you for your pack so you can be as comfortable as possible while hauling 40+ pounds up a mountain. Be sure they fill your pack with a realistic weight so you have an idea of how it would feel full. Make sure the majority from the weight of your pack is resting comfortably on your hips and not entirely on your back or shoulders. I was adjusting the straps on my pack for the first two miles of the trek until I found a comfortable fit. Everyone is different; make sure you find a pack that fits you right.
  • Take everything out that you brought in. A sign of a good backpacker is leaving no sign that you were ever there.


  • Don’t pack more than you can carry. This is very common for first time backpackers. Take the essentials and nothing more. Conserve weight by purchasing a water purifier, freeze-dried food and keep the electronics at home.
  • Don’t be an over-achiever. Do what you can. Carrying a 40+ pound pack is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Don’t out-do yourself on the first day.
  • Don’t skimp on the essentials, including rain gear, shelter and good hiking boots.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of nature. Be aware and know what’s around you.

While hiking along the Mokelumne Watershed I learned first-hand the satisfaction and challenges of backpacking, I also took on a whole new perspective about how water travels from the Sierra to the Bay. Backpacking in such an isolated area, knowing that the environment surrounding me supports the health of our Bay reminded me how important it is to take care of our environment, no matter where the trail takes you.


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What is life without transition? Why Estuarine-Terrestrial Transition Zones Matter

transition zone restoration

Save The Bay staff and volunteers are restoring this slope adjacent to a newly restored wetland at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve.

The majority of Bay Area residents live and work within a half mile from the Bay, which makes the San Francisco Estuary one of the most urbanized estuaries in the world. Humans have valued the Bay for various ecosystem services throughout history and have modified the Bay to take advantage of some of those services. For example, humans have diked large areas of the Bay for commercial salt production and duck hunting, and have built trails close to the Bay so that they can enjoy the cultural services that the Bay provides. They have also hampered some of those services by filling and paving over large areas of the Bay to build urban infrastructure, and until the 1960’s, used the Bay as a place to dispose of garbage and sewage. It has only been the last several decades that the general public began to realize the importance of the natural ecosystem services the SF Bay provides.

San Francisco Bay was once ringed by healthy wetland habitats. Those wetlands, in many cases, gradually transitioned from tidal wetlands to upland terrestrial habitat. Those areas of gradual transition would often extend for a mile or more, comprising large expanses of native grasses and salt tolerant plants utilized by abundant wildlife populations. Over time, those transition areas have been squeezed between urban infrastructure and the Bay. These areas at the marsh-upland interface, that we call estuarine-terrestrial transition zones, are important because they provide important and unique ecosystem functions and services. Faced with climate change, transition zones can provide important ecosystem services, including buffering hazards associated with sea level rise such as flooding and erosion, and providing a place for wetlands to migrate inland. In addition, the transition zone provides nutrient cycling, filtration of pollutants from urban runoff, and support for biological diversity.

Save The Bay focuses its restoration effort on creating functional transition zone habitat in areas that lack transition zones. Using a carefully selected site-specific plant palette, we restore transition zone vegetation in areas such as the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) in Hayward adjacent to recently restored salt ponds where transition zone habitat is lacking. Several of these former salt ponds are being breached to restore natural tidal flow as part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration (SBSPR) Project. Save The Bay has been working with the SBSPR Project at the ELER to vegetate the slopes adjacent to these ponds in order to provide functions such as high tide refuge and cover to avoid predation for marsh animals during high tides. Sign up for a volunteer program and join Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Team to learn more about functional transition zone habitat and important ecosystem services at our sites throughout San Francisco Bay.

Watch this PBS NewsHour clip about the importance of restoring transition zones for wildlife.

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7×7’s San Francisco’s Favorite Charity Contest

Quick question: What’s one of the easiest, most painless ways to help guarantee a more vibrant and healthy San Francisco Bay? We’ll give you a hint. It only takes about 10 seconds and 2 clicks. The answer is casting your vote in 7×7’s annual Favorite Charities contest, for which Save The Bay has been nominated! 7×7 has partnered with PG&E to honor San Francisco’s favorite charities, and the prize is a big one: $10,000 in cash to the top-voted winner, and $2,000 each to 7 runners-up. And that’s not all ¬– the winning charity also gets a mini profile in both 7×7’s online and digital editions.

We need your help pushing us to the top. Rally your troops and spread the word about the contest, and vote for Save The Bay as your favorite charity. As you can imagine, $10,000 is an awesome additional resource to continue our tireless work in restoration and advocacy. You have until the end of Friday, November 7th to vote and you can vote as many times as you want.

We’ve gone ahead and made it extra easy for you to vote by providing 7×7’s voting form below. We, along with the Bay and all its wildlife, thank you!


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Let’s Send a Clear Message to the Plastic Bag Industry

Photo by Alistair

The plastic bag industry just needs to realize it’s over.

Thick skulled. Tone deaf. Toxic. Desperate. Dumb.

Any other ideas what to call a pig-headed industry group, led by a South Carolina-based polluter and bent on rolling back progress in California?

The group aims to stop California’s groundbreaking ban on single use plastic bags by putting it to a popular vote. To overturn the law, they’d have to collect 500,000 voter signatures by the end of the year to get a referendum on the November 2016 ballot. They’re prepared to spend big to make that happen.

But we don’t think the state bag ban is going anywhere. Thanks to regional victories by Save The Bay and others, one-third of Californians already live with a local bag ban, and the sky has not fallen. Grocers have not gone out of business. Consumers have not revolted in outrage. In fact, adapting has been easy, and we’ve already kept billions of wasteful bags from littering our cities, contaminating our waters and choking our wildlife.

Unfortunately, if opponents of progress get enough signatures to place the repeal on the ballot, the state would have to shelve the ban until a popular vote could happen at the end of next year. That delay alone would mean 18 billion—yes, billion with a B—single-use bags unnecessarily wasted.

As an editorial in the Mercury News smartly puts it:

 “If ever a referendum deserved to be trashed, it’s the plastics industry’s attempt to undo California’s first-in-the-nation plastic bag ban. … If it does, let’s call it the Right to Pollute Streams and the Ocean, Kill Wildlife and Overflow Landfills Initiative.”

So tell your friends, family and neighbors to watch out for the plastic industry’s paid canvassers, and to be prepare to tell them exactly where they can stick their single-use plastic bags when they come looking for a signature.

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Wildlife is Resurgent – Reflections on National Wildlife Refuge Week


Photo by Rick Lewis

Last week, I accompanied Save The Bay’s habitat restoration director Donna Ball on a visit to our restoration site at the vast Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. As we drove along levees in various stages of restoration, I was transfixed by the copious birds: kites gliding inches above glassy waters of tidal marsh; osprey and hawks circling high above; a great blue heron here, a snowy egret there, each wading nonchalantly in the tide. The amazing thing out at Eden is that you’re standing at water level and can see the shimmering of cities of the Penninsula to the West, and rushing traffic on the San Mateo Bridge just to the north; you know you’re standing in the very heart of the Bay Area—and yet you are also in a whole different world: a secluded, natural oasis resurgent with wildlife. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s National Wildlife Refuge Week, a perfect time to reflect on the diversity of life on our Bay shores and in the Bay itself. To celebrate the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the creatures it helps protect, here’s a roundup of some of our favorite video and blogs on Bay wildlife.

Restored Wetlands Welcome Wildlife
In this 8-minute clip, NewsHour highlights our friends at the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, showing how restored wetlands welcome wildlife and protect against future floods

Leopards, Angels, and Hounds, Oh My! — Sharks in the San Francisco Bay
Did you know that San Francisco Bay has six resident shark species and one species of ray living in the San Francisco Bay, and several of those species are considered threatened or vulnerable?

Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, the Tiniest Endangered Species
There’s a unique mammal that makes its home among the reddish pickle weed in the low Bay Area’s tidal marsh, and which is so tiny most people have never even seen one. The salt marsh harvest mouse is mostly nocturnal, totally adorable, and, sadly, endangered.

The majestic birds of SF Bay
Bay Area Bird photographer Rick Lewis shares his stories of the majestic birds of San Francisco Bay, and why they’re worth saving. His photos pose the question: “How fortunate we are to live here along the Pacific Flyway, to have the privilege of catching our breath at the wonder of the wildness right here in our urban landscape, to share this habitat with the wildlife among us?”

Want get up close and personal and learn more about Bay wildlife? On Saturday, October 18, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is hosting a day of wildlife science. Find the details here.

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