Citizens of Dunsmuir work to keep the river clean for locals, tourists and wildlife

Guest blog by Lauren Steinheimer

California's greatest river originates right here in Siskiyou County. The headwaters of the Sacramento, the state's largest river, emerge from the Trinity Divide just north of Dunsmuir.

Locals know the Sacramento River is a precious resource for the community, one that draws tourists from around the world for prized fly fishing, floating and stunning photo opportunities. This is why they come together with the help of The River Exchange to protect and care for the river by picking up garbage and educating others on the importance of leaving no trace.

"If we can keep it clean, we can enjoy it for generations," said Dunsmuir City Council Member and former mayor Dave Keisler. He continued to share a story about a group of friends who have been visiting Dunsmuir every year since their grandparents brought them as children. Now, they still come each year, bringing their own grandchildren with them. "They come for the river," Keisler said.

"The River Exchange is one of the greatest things that happened for Dunsmuir," he added. "They're like the guardians of our watershed."

Great River Cleanup

Keisler has been participating in The River Exchange's annual Great River Cleanup for the past several years. In 2016, he and his volunteer crew helped bring in almost 300 out of the total 575 pounds of garbage collected along the river that day.

"Some of the stuff you find out there is just unreal," Keisler said of the trash. He continued to describe the annual contest to see who can bring in the largest wad of balled-up of fishing line. "One year, it was the size of a basketball," he said. "Last year, my group won and it was only about the size of a softball, so it's getting better, but that's still detrimental for fish and wildlife."

The Great River Cleanup takes place with cooperation from Union Pacific Railroad, who grants access to their property along the river for volunteers involved in the cleanup. Retired UP employee and Dunsmuir resident Robert Osborne said he used to be involved in the Great River Cleanup whenever he wasn't working, but since then he's taken it a step further and integrated cleanup practices into his regular routine.

Over the past few years, Osborne started picking up trash along some of the more popular river sites during walks with his dog, Clair. He usually stops to pick up a beer bottle or two around Hedge Creek Falls, Prospect Ave. or Tauhindauli Park.

"There are garbage cans and dog poop stations all over the city and most people are good at using them," Osborne said, "but three or four times it's been really bad. I've found t-shirts, beer cans and bottles, bags of garbage, that kind of stuff. I try to pick up what I can, but can't get all of it. I just really hate looking at other people's trash."

"I think The River Exchange is doing a great job and they're a big plus for our community," Osborne said.

An abandoned campsite near the Sacramento River

An abandoned campsite near the Sacramento River


Effect on tourism

World-class fly-fishing is one of Dunsmuir's major tourist attractions. Maintaining a healthy environment for fish and visitors alike is crucial to the town's economy.

That's why Keisler uses his role as a city leader to engage with visitors and educate them on keeping the river clean.

"Not only do we have the best water on Earth, we have the biggest fish in it," Keisler said.

California Fish and Wildlife stock the Sacramento River with trout, but the City of Dunsmuir supplements this with their own Trophy Trout Program every year. The program is aimed at promoting tourism with an annual contest to see who can catch the biggest fish.

"Water is everything in this town," Keisler said, "and Trophy Trout is something we do every year to bring more people to the water. The trash is like a slap in the face to the locals who want to keep it clean.

Osborne agreed, "It doesn't look good for the city and isn't good for the community as a whole. The economy has changed in this region. There's no more mill, the railroad isn't what it used to be... We have to rely on tourism."

Educate the litterbugs

No one knows exactly who is leaving garbage all along the river and this article isn't aimed at pointing fingers, but both Keisler and Osborne spoke of the importance of educating all river visitors on keeping the area clean, a message central to the mission of The River Exchange.

"This area has a high transient population," Keisler said. "I try to introduce myself when I can and I always emphasize respect."

He added that discouraging campfires in the woods surrounding the river is a key factor in maintaining a safe environment, especially after witnessing the Boles Fire devastation in neighboring town of Weed in 2014.

"We're trying really hard to build a safe trail to Mossbrae Falls, and one of the issues of resistance from the Saint Germain Foundation is the garbage left by visitors," Keisler said.

A lot of transients ride into town on railcars, something that Bruce Shoemaker of Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture attempts to counterbalance by rallying a crew of BBCRC volunteers for The Great River Cleanup every year.

"I'm enthused to see that The River Exchange is continuing its long involvement in the stewardship of the river through organizing this event and I'm happy to do my part," Shoemaker said. "We like to get a few volunteers to come down and participate, give back, help us out with this annual event and do our part to keep this amazing river a beautiful, pristine and healthy place."