The annual fall salmon run is in full swing on our local rivers, and the next couple of weeks would be a great time to get up to Knights Ferry and enjoy this unique experience.
The annual Knights Ferry Salmon Festival will be Saturday, Nov. 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the park next to the bridge.
I stood on the bridge over the Stanislaus River earlier this week and was amazed at the amount of water being released. It is a far greater flow than I can ever remember at this time of year. It’s a tribute, I suppose, to the wet winter we just enjoyed and also the fact that New Melones Reservoir topped out at record levels last season.
In a “normal” year the water is so shallow that many of the Chinook salmon are cutting across the rapids with their dorsal fins fully exposed. Not so this season. Thus, a good tip is to go close to mid-day since the sun is overhead and the light makes viewing much better.
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The parking lot and day use area have added a $5 fee, but since this is a Federal (Corps of Engineers) facility, us old folks can use our National Park Seniors Pass. Just be sure to go into the information office and get a special hanger to display the pass on your vehicle.
While you’re in the visitors’ center there are several free handouts to guide you to the interesting attractions close at hand. One covers “Historic Knights Ferry” and the other tells the story of the “K.F. Covered Bridge.” Some versions of the story say Ulysses S. Grant, an engineer through his West Point training, actually designed the bridge. But that’s never been confirmed.
Dr. William Knight founded the town, and the ferry, in 1848, just in time to capture much of the Gold Rush action from the 49ers. Knight was murdered on the main street just a year later and soon after that tragic event the Dent brothers, John and Lewis, arrived from St. Louis. The Dent family was to play a significant role in U. S. history, as their sister Julia married U.S. Grant, who went on, of course, to become the famed Civil War general and 18th president of the United States.
Grant made several visits to Knights Ferry while he was an Army captain stationed in the Bay Area. Some versions have it that Grant actually came West after the Mexican-American war and attempted to partner with his in-laws in running the ferry. That business relationship didn’t work out, apparently. Had it worked out, both the Civil War and the Reconstruction might have been dramatically altered.
Two original Dent family homes are still standing, albeit much modernized. Check those handouts to learn the locations.
There is much more history to see in a short walk around the town. Next to the covered bridge is the remains of the water-powered grist mill. Looking up the adjacent hill you can see the remains of the aqueduct which brought the water down from up-river and powered the grinding wheels. In fact, these wheels were imported “round the Horn” by ship from Italy and are still standing next to the stone building.
The mill was later converted into the first electrical generating powerhouse for the area. All of this history is well recorded on signs nearby.
So much history, crammed into such a compact area, and so close to home. Add the attraction of dozens of silver salmon laying their eggs and it’s a worthwhile place to bring visitors or just show the kids some of our heritage.
Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in non-profits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.