The 145-mile Merced River begins on Yosemite's highest peak and flows westwards until it joins the San Joaquin River near Newman on the west side of Merced County.
From the source to Lake McSwain in the lower foothills, access to the river is plentiful. Paralleled by roads and trails in public ownership (USFS, BLM, and MID) for most of its course, river users can find nearly continual access points.
Public access below Lake McSwain is more challenging. Several areas where access was not previously restricted have ceased to be open to the public. In a number of places, the Merced Fly Fishing Club, with cooperation of the California Department of Fish and Game, had posted large signs with the fishing regulations for the river.
I had taken this as an indicator that these were public access points until the "no trespassing" signs went up. In one place both signs are still posted on the same tree!
I was surprised and saddened to see that access had been limited. I have spent many enjoyable days on the lower section of the river and one of my favorite access points is now posted "no trespassing" (though the DFG regulation sign continues to tell me how to obey the fishing regulations if I were to trespass).
When I returned to inventory previous access points and their current status for this column it was no longer a mystery as to why closures have been put in place. Too many bad court decisions have made landowners fearful of being held liable if someone is injured on their property. The tipping point for many landowners came last year when extremely high river flows required the rescue of inexperienced boaters from the swift and dangerous water.
In addition, many of the former access points along the river are strewn with trash. It's not just a little bit of trash -- it's a dump! Rubbish of every imaginable kind has made many of these areas just plain disgusting, despite past cleanup efforts of the Merced Fly Fishing Club and other groups. Adding to this, ever-increasing theft problems in rural areas make trespassing a major concern.
Although I'd like to see more access to the lower Merced, I can't help but think that I would not be inclined to allow access if I owned land along the river. Until laws, crime problems, and the habits of many river users change, access will probably not change.
At this point, the current legal public access points along the Merced River between the San Joaquin River and Lake McSwain from west to east are:
George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area: Northeast of Newman on Kelley Road. (May close July 1).
McConnell State Recreation Area: East of Delhi on McConnell Road. (May close July 1).
Access points along Merced Falls Road:
Henderson Park: 1.2 miles east of Snelling.
Cuneo Access: 2.6 miles east of Snelling.
Crocker Huffman Dam access: 4.2 miles east of Snelling.
PG&E Merced Falls access: 6.3 miles east of Snelling.
Hornitos Road Bridge: 6.7 miles east of Snelling. Merced Falls Reservoir on the east side of the bridge is open. The area on the west side is posted "no trespassing."
Lake McClure Road below McSwain Dam: 7.1 miles east of Snelling a right turn leads to a PG&E access point just before the entrance point to the Lake McClure and Lake McSwain Recreation Areas.
In addition, the areas around the Highway 59 and Snelling Road bridges are only partially posted and fenced. They are not public access points but currently the sections not posted or fenced seem to be open to use. Due to the lack of clarity, you use them at your own risk if you fish there. If you can provide further information about these areas, please contact me.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org