Boaters will trace path of Tuolumne River to celebrate, highlight

Emilio Martinez seeks inspiration as he paddles down the Tuolumne River toward the sea.

The Modesto artist and writer is taking part in a three-week event aimed at educating people about the river and its connecting waters.

The Tuolumne River Trust has signed up people to travel one or more of 15 segments between the Sierra Nevada and San Francisco Bay.

They pay the registration fee, line up pledges, get into their boats and take off.

"I'm going to do the whole trip to the bay because I want to increase awareness of the river," said Martinez, who is accompanied by Owen Segerstrom of Sonora.

Martinez, who has lived most of his life in the airport neighborhood, next to the river, said the trip also could give him ideas for murals at Orville Wright Elementary School.

The event, Paddle to the Sea, had 96 participants as of Monday, said Patrick Koepele, the trust's deputy executive director. Sign-ups continue for remaining segments.

The event started Saturday with kayakers taking on the heavy spring flow on the Clavey River, a tributary west of the Tuolumne's origin in Yosemite National Park. Kayakers and rafters also have covered the whitewater from the Clavey confluence to Don Pedro Reservoir.

Tuesday brought a voyage by kayak and power boat across the reservoir, which captures water for irrigation, urban use and hydropower.

After a week's break, canoes and kayaks will make their way through the foothills and flatlands of Stanislaus County, where the river runs gently. The public is invited to related celebrations in Waterford on May 28 and Modesto on May 30.

Starting May 31, paddlers will cover the lowest part of the Tuolumne and turn into the San Joaquin River toward Lathrop.

Salmon fishing boats will handle the stretch through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and bay to Oakland. The final leg will be by sea kayak to San Francisco, where a final celebration will take place June 6 at Aquatic Park, about three miles from where the river water enters the Pacific Ocean.

The organizers said Paddle to the Sea could build support for enhancing fish, wildlife and recreation on the Tuolumne. The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the federal law that protected the upper part as a wild and scenic river.

"We want to celebrate the Tuolumne River and raise awareness about the river," Koepele said.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.