A Summer of Sequoias

“The Big Tree is nature’s forest masterpiece, and so far as I know, the greatest of living things. It belongs to an ancient stock, as its remains in old rocks show, and has a strange air of other days about it, a thoroughbred look inherited from the long ago- the auld lang syne of trees.” – John Muir In 1873, pioneering conservationist John Muir left Yosemite to head down south where he came across the magnificent giant sequoias. His admiration for the canyons and big trees motivated him to push for the protection of this ecosystem from logging practices. Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890 and it is the second oldest national park in the NPS system. In 1940, Kings Canyon National Park was created and since 1943 both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have been managed together. Sequoia National Park is home to the Giant Forest, where four of the five largest trees in the world are found. One of these trees is General Sherman, the world’s largest living thing by volume. It weighs nearly 1,400 tons at a height of 275-ft and it is estimated to be 2,200 years old. It is without a doubt that these magnificent giants are one of the main reasons visitors travel to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. This is my first time in the Sierra Nevada and I will finally be able to check off my bucket list seeing the breathtaking sequoias (and hopefully a black bear).

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A view of the Kaweah River

In addition to the sequoias, the potential to swim in the rivers during the hot summer season is a huge factor that motivates many people to visit. However, these opportunities unfortunately also carry risks such as drowning in the Kaweah River. Last year there were no fatalities on the Kaweah River, which could be in part due to the snow pack being very well below average. The most recent El Niño Southern Oscillation climatic event brought a lot of precipitation to California and the snowpack quantity at the Sierra Nevada was almost at the historical average. This change in snowpack has directly changed the river, increasing its flow and volume as well as the possibility of drowning.
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One of many signs located throughout many campsites and river access points warning about the dangers of the river

About 2 weeks ago, a 53-year-old solo backpacker from Santa Monica was found dead at the bottom of a waterfall along the Kaweah River. In order to help reduce the risk of drowning, Sequoia National Park established the River Rover program about 11 years ago. It is an educational program that trains volunteers to interact with park visitors and inform them of hazards they may encounter during their time at the park. By educating visitors on the dangers of swimming in the river, volunteers can help reduce river accidents at Kaweah River. I attended the River Rover volunteer orientation this past Saturday where I learned about river safety and I met the volunteers I will be seeing during my LHIP position. Since the program utilizes one-on-one contact, language barriers are one of the biggest challenges of the program. Although some of the River Rover volunteers speak Spanish, there is no guarantee that there will always be a bilingual volunteer at the river access points. I am looking forward to working with this amazing volunteer program in order to improve its recruitment of bilingual volunteers and reduce even more river accidents!

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