The meandering blue ribbon that is the Tuolumne River wets the Valley’s whistle, swims dinner to fishing holes and catches skipping rocks all summer. But along its wending way, it brings another resource: jobs.
From scientists who study its health, to parks workers who prune by its banks, to nonprofit environmental groups teaming up to see it thrive, the river is awash in career potential, said Meg Gonzalez, education director with the Tuolumne River Trust. Many of those opportunities, however, flow by unnoticed.
“There are a lot of recreation and restoration groups. We’re all having to look outside the area when we hire,” Gonzalez said Saturday as she led a session of the new River Stewards Training Program at Dos Rios Ranch. “The idea is to expose 20-somethings to job opportunities right here, close to home.”
Gonzalez also arranges science and river activities at Legion Park for Orville Wright Elementary students and fishing, photography and geocaching experiences for Mark Twain and La Loma junior high students. Gregori High environmental studies students do river visits.
At Enochs High, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is helping seniors in the Forensic Biotech Science Academy study salmon eggs being hatched for release into the Tuolumne River.
Student teams in Dave Menshew’s senior capstone class study reaction of fish eggs to temperature and light; growth and progression of the fish as they hatch; and components of the river water where the fish will be released.
Thursday, senior Ian Hay used a high-powered scanning electron microscope on loan from Hitachi to see the cellular make-up of Tuolumne River sediment. Hay said he’s been planning to go into microbiology and genetics since kindergarten. “I see a really big future in it,” he said. “I look at life around and there’s all this variety that have all these capabilities. That’s something we can use.”
For example, the insulin diabetics need is produced by modified E. coli bacteria, Hay said, gesturing around at the day’s assignment. Those not deep in their senior research project were tasked with comparing ways to destroy E. coli, a lesson titled “Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.”
“We have to see which product kills the best so, that way, we’ll be prepared,” said Kaelyn Dailey with a grin. Lysol disinfectant appeared to be winning.
“They are learning some science skills with applicability. Is there going to be a zombie apocalypse? We hope not,” Menshew said dryly, “but they may be in a disaster.” Which cleaning products work, how to sterilize equipment – all essential for survival, but also highly employable skills.
Back at the ranch Saturday, trainees Pedro Chacon, Jake Nuss, Raquel Rangel and Sandy Reynoso toured fields being planted for a years-long restoration project. At Dos Rios, 1,600 acres of flood plain where the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers meet will become dense, wildlife-friendly habitat.
Crews have just finished planting rows of blackberries, wild grapes, valley oaks, wild rose, willows and box elders through fields now dotted with rows of white cardboard boxes. More fields will be planted soon, said Jeff Holt of River Partners, helping the ecosystem while providing flood management.
River Partners works with public agencies, irrigation districts and nonprofit groups to create wildlife habitat. Its Modesto office includes a staff of seven, with applications for summer internships being taken in the spring.
Next for the River Stewards will be training on water safety to lead youth groups, so they can be hired to guide groups on river trips, Gonzalez said. The trust encourages family use of the Tuolumne, organizing canoeing and rafting days, and leading river cleanup days.
“We want to hire local. That’s the best you can do,” she said. “There is a big demand for outdoor education and recreation – these are viable career paths.”