Tuolumne River Access Issues
“Private boaters that exit the river on river right at Wards Ferry Bridge are technically trespassing on the Districts’ land because they have received no prior authorization to use the Districts’ lands or to park on the Districts’ property.” – Direct quote filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from Modesto and Turlock Irrigation District February 28, 2018
Last week Modesto and Turlock Irrigation District filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a request for a trial-type hearing that challenges the Bureau of Land Management’s mandatory condition of improvements for the Ward’s Ferry Bridge take-out. Overall, the districts believe the Don Pedro reservoir levels have no effect on the take-out and dispute that Wards Ferry take-out is highly unsafe, whether conditions at Ward’s Ferry have caused a decline in non-commercial boating on the upper Tuolumne River and apparently, the districts believe private boaters are trespassing on their land.
It is interesting to note that based on GIS data Rafting Magazine acquired from BLM it would appear that both sides of the Ward’s Ferry Bridge are wholly within BLM lands. The District’s FERC license and arrangements with BLM may give them a certain amount of latitude when operating within the scope of their license, however to claim that private boaters are criminally trespassing on district lands does not seem to be correct. Here are the improvements the Bureau of Land Management requested of the licencees (Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts) on behalf of boaters:
- The facility shall accommodate all-water-level motorized vehicle access that safely and functionally accommodates 6 simultaneous river trip take-outs, consisting of up to 6 groups taking out simultaneously, consisting of up to 6 rafts in each group. Design may include a single large boat ramp, or multiple smaller boat ramps or a combination of boat ramps and a multi-crane staging area and other possible engineered design features to accommodate up to 6 groups of 6 rafts each at any one time.
- The facility shall be designed to accommodate both private and commercial groups safely. The design shall accommodate safe unloading of gear from rafts and loading of gear into vehicles. The design shall be developed in coordination with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, California State Water Resources Control Board, and Tuolumne County and in consultation with representatives of the boating community including American Whitewater, American River Recreation Association, California Outdoors, Tuolumne River Trust, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, and interested private boaters
- During the May 1st– October 15th mandatory USFS Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River permit season, Licensees shall provide maintenance, management, & staffing for the duration of license at the takeout facility to ensure that the takeout is being utilized in an orderly and safe fashion. Gates need to be open to the public and commercial outfitters from 2PM – dusk to accommodate vehicles accessing the takeout areas. Licensees shall provide an all-water-level pedestrian access that minimizes conflicts with motorized vehicles and is sufficient to meet current and future needs.
- The Licensees shall provide and manage appropriate toilet facilities (at least 2 DA toilets). Toilet facilities will be open to the public on a daily basis from May 1st –October 15th. Licensees shall be required to maintain daily regular cleaning and upkeep of toilet facilities.
- Licensees shall provide adequate and safe day use parking for vehicles, trucks, trailers, and busses at or in proximity to Ward’s Ferry. Licensees shall provide 20 to 25 parking spots in total off of Ward’s Ferry Road on both sides of the river. Parking will be paved and striped. Licensees shall provide barrier structures approved by BLM and the structures will be placed near the embankment to keep vehicles from being pushed into the reservoir or down the steep embankment. The Licensees shall provide two ADA parking spaces near the bridge ends.
- Licensees shall provide (6-10) bear proof trash containers based on need. Location and number of trash containers will be determined in the site plans and upon approval of BLM.
- Licensees shall provide two safe passenger loading zone areas for all river trip passengers. Area must be able to handle up to 26 people at one time.
- Licensees shall provide for a Day Use area for non-whitewater boating related recreational users. Location shall be approved by BLM and shall be located in an area that will avoid conflicts with boaters. A minimum of 3 ADA wire meshed picnic tables that meet required ADA design shall be placed in an agreed- upon locations in the Ward’s Ferry Day Use Recreation Area Facility. All picnic tables shall be cemented and secured in place to prevent people from stealing the tables. Licensee is responsible for upkeep and replacement of tables. Preferably these locations shall be provided where shade from the afternoon sun can provide protection. Manmade shade structures may be possible that blend in with the environment.
- Licensee shall provide a BLM approved aesthetically pleasing and environmentally appropriate appearance at the Day Use facility. Licensee will need to meet BLM VRM management objectives identified in the BLM approved VRM Plan. Licensees shall develop a BLM approved Maintenance Plan for daily and long term maintenance in and around Ward’s Ferry Day Use Recreation Area..
- If the Licensee charges fees at the Ward’s Ferry Day Use Recreation Area they must be fair and reasonable maintenance use fees for the duration of license. All Recreation Use Fees charged at Ward’s Ferry will seek public input from all affected stakeholders
- Interpretive and information signage, including two BLM approved kiosk signs, shall be placed on each side of the river. Location will be determined on the BLM approved site plan. All information placed on the kiosk signs must be approved by BLM. Replacement of signs that are in disrepair, damaged, vandalized, or stolen shall be replaced at the Licensees’ expense.
If you use the Ward’s Ferry Bridge take-out below Meral’s Pool on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River please you can voice your support directly to BLM for their efforts to improve Ward’s Ferry Bridge take-out. Our friends at American Whitewater asked that paddlers thank BLM for the diligent work and efforts to improve Ward’s Ferry Bridge take-out. Encourage BLM to stand tall against the Districts’ attempts to side step the needed improvements for a safe multi-user facility and to ensure that any solutions at Ward’s Ferry are done in a collaborative manner with all interested stakeholders. You can send your emails to the following Bureau of Land Management personal:
Deputy State Director, Natural Resources
Central California istrict Manager