Jeff Jardine

From the depths of New Melones comes the gateway of controversy

Mark DuBois, executive director of Friends of the River, talks with proponents of the New Melones Dam in July 1980.
Mark DuBois, executive director of Friends of the River, talks with proponents of the New Melones Dam in July 1980. Modesto Bee file

From the emails, voice mails and other sources:

DRYDOCKED – Hiking back out of the Stanislaus River canyon after visiting the old Parrott’s Ferry Bridge last week, I noticed a couple of freestanding stone pillars that are now well out of the water. They were closer to the “new” bridge, which is coming up on 40 years old, than the old bridge, which was inundated by New Melones Reservoir in the 1980s.

My first thought was that they might have been remnants of the old ferry that once crossed the Stanislaus. I went down and took some photos. I figured I would email one to Dale Batchelor, who is among those who posts great historical photos and information on a Facebook page titled “You Know You Grew Up in Tuolumne County When ...” We had never met in person, only through comments on the site.

As I headed back up the hill, a man was walking down the old silt-covered road in my direction. If he looked mysteriously like Dale Batchelor – ballcap, mustache and all – that’s because it was, indeed, Dale Batchelor. Small world. I recognized him from his Facebook photo. He was headed down to see the old bridge himself. I asked about the pillars. Not part of the old ferry works at all, he said.

The gateway was part of an old fence that was torn out when New Melones’ water rose. But that fence line also became the county’s Mason-Dixon Line of sorts.

“That’s where they had the wars,” Batchelor told me.

Indian wars from the early days? No. The wars were heated exchanges between Friends of the River, a group that wanted to stop the New Melones Dam construction, and the dam’s proponents. Batchelor said he has an old tape recording of the arguments. The organization formed to push Proposition 17. Had it passed in the early 1970s, it could have halted construction of New Melones Dam and preserved the river above the old town of Robinson Ferry, or Melones. The proposition failed, but it didn’t end there, and that’s how Batchelor became friends with Mark DuBois, the man who in 1979 chained himself to a rock in the canyon, in essence daring officials to drown him in a futile attempt to keep authorities from filling the reservoir.

His actions forced authorities to agree to not back up water beyond the old Parrott’s Ferry Bridge.

“I had a camper at the rafter takeout area when Mark and his liaison partner came out of hiding,” Batchelor said. “I heard a ruckus outside my place and saw Mark DuBois for the first time.”

The promise didn’t last long, and in the early 1980s, the water level began rising and the bridge went under. But DuBois made a huge impact nonetheless.

WANNA BLOG? – Earlier this month I mentioned Gail Wilson and her Successful Thinkers Network. She brings in guest motivational speakers for meetings at the Round Table Pizza in north Modesto. She’s also looking for guest bloggers to impart their wisdom online. Call her at 209-712-8997 or go to http://blog.ServiceConnection.Biz.

AUTHOR! AUTHOR! – I periodically give a blurb to local authors who are self-published. Silver Lamb, a longtime music educator in the Sylvan Union School District, is on a roll. She recently released her third book, titled “Red, White, Blue and Orange Freedom Parade: The Adventures of Mr. Scruffy Pants.” It’s available through Amazon for $10.

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