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Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River (CA) - Access Update

Posted: 02/08/2024
By: Jeff Venturino

American Whitewater has been actively working to help restore public access to the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River following extensive 2023 storm damage to two key access points, Lumsden Road and Wards Ferry Road. Repair of these roads is vital to the recreation economy in the area and each additional season without access to the river has a significant impact on whitewater paddlers. The extreme damage to these roads will require coordinated efforts to ensure they are funded and repaired for the long haul and not just patched for the next atmospheric river to take them out, again! The unfortunate news is that full traditional access will not be restored before the spring and summer of 2024. Access on an interim road is still available for the public and Outfitters. American Whitewater is working with other stakeholders to explore every viable interim solution. This update provides the most recent information regarding road repairs and access to the Tuolumne.

Lumsden Road Put-in 

In the Spring of 2023, Lumsden Road suffered two severe washouts, one of which removed the road surface entirely, with the cost of repair estimated at $1.3 million. Stanislaus National Forest staff determined the repair could not be funded under the usual repair program and budget. They identified Lumsden Road as eligible for e Federal Highways’ (FHWA) Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads (ERFO) program,and prioritized an application for Lumsden repair. The ERFO program provides supplemental funds for the repair or reconstruction of federal roads to their pre-disaster conditions after damage by natural disasters or catastrophic failures. 

During the Summer of 2023, Stanislaus National Forest evaluated the damage and further determined that Lumsden Road needed a betterment to withstand future atmospheric storms as opposed to just restoring it to pre-disaster conditions. To provide rationale for this betterment Stanislaus National Forest staff spent the remainder of 2023 completing a thorough geotechnical slope stability study. The resulting data was included in a revised report to FHWA for ERFO funding last December. Currently, Stanislaus National Forest awaits FHWA approval and they estimate that funding and design components will fall in place during 2024. It is their goal to begin repairs in the Summer of 2025. American Whitewater will continue to track progress through the design and funding steps remaining. 

Alternate access at USFS Road 1S01 a.k.a.“The South Fork Road”

For 2024 Stanislaus National Forest is once again allowing public pedestrian access along US Forest Service Road 1S01, also known as the “South Fork Road”, which is a USFS maintenance level 1 road.  In order to reach the river, members of the public and outfitter guests will have to hike the South Fork Road. American Whitewater recognizes that pedestrian-only access will severely limit noncommercial river trips on the Wild & Scenic Tuolumne. We are working to identify ways to facilitate boat and gear transport for the public down the South Fork Road. Unfortunately, there is still no clear path forward for public vehicle access to the river, but we are collaborating with the USFS Groveland Ranger District and other stakeholders to explore options for possible shuttle services or other solutions.

USFS Level 1 maintenance roads like 1S01 are normally closed to motor vehicle use. Forest Service staff have temporarily granted access to Outfitters for the purposes of transporting rafts, gear, and equipment to Meral’s Pool and back. Outfitters are required to operate under a Special Use Permit, maintain commercial liability insurance, and must meet specifications for the maximum vehicle size that can safely navigate the one-lane dirt road. Outfitters are required to coordinate one-way vehicle traffic and carry radios due to the lack of pull-outs, narrow and tight turns, and other potential dangers of having two cars meet each other on 1S01.

Ward’s Ferry Road Takeout 

Ward’s Ferry Road remains closed on the north and south sides of the river. Tuolumne County Public Works has a design for repair and is in the process of acquiring a cost estimate. Once a cost estimate is prepared, Public Works will present the repair to the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors for approval to bid out for construction. An optimistic schedule would be for the repair to go to bid in the next few months and then be completed in early summer. However, one caveat to this timeline is that repair funds applied for by the County from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have yet to be approved. The Tuolumne Board of Supervisors may be reluctant to proceed forward without FEMA approval using just County funds. American Whitewater remains in contact with the Tuolumne Public Works and Tuolumne County District 3 Supervisor Kathleen Haff to track this process. For now, early-season trips will likely have to take out at Moccasin Point Marina and travel across Don Pedro Reservoir to get there.

Brief Word on Cherry Roads 

Hetch Hetchy Water & Power (HHWP) staff successfully completed repairs on Cherry Lake Road and Cherry Oil Road in the summer and fall of 2023. It is our current understanding that put-in access for Cherry Creek and takeout access for Upper Cherry Creek are unimpaired as of January 2024. American Whitewater will continue to stay in touch with HHWP to monitor for any changes to that access status as this winter progresses.

Photo provided by Stanislaus National Forest of Lumsden Road Site #1N10-1 


Theresa Simsiman

Sacramento, CA

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