"Immersion Camp" comes to the South Yuba River

Posted by Katrina Schneider on Wednesday, July 24 2013

This summer I had the opportunity to bring Immersion Camp to my “backyard,” the South Yuba River near Nevada City, CA. For eight years, my colleagues and I  have taught underwater science camps that provide river education while snorkeling on the Smith River in northern California. These Smith River camps are aimed at providing local outdoor experiential opportunities for Crescent City youth, many of whom have never been to their local river. In contrast, many Yuba river youth spend much of their summer at the river. Thus Yuba Immersion Camp’s focus has an additional component -- to create a community versed in “River Speak” – a language of understanding the river, with the particular goal of increasing river safety.

Every summer there are numerous accidents and fatalities on the South Yuba River. This June the community experienced a devastating loss with the death of a twelve year old boy who was exploring the river with his friend. Many in the community urged "can't we put up signs at these dangerous places?" and spoke of the river as dangerous, stating that they’d rather their children recreate in community pools then the river. Immersion camp aims to convey a simple fact: where there is water and rocks and current, there are dangers. But the river is not inherently dangerous. The river is the river. It is only when WE are there at the river that the danger arises. And if we understand the river and its inherent power, we can do our best to safely interact with the river.

Immersion Camp is aimed at creating and growing a community who learns “River Speak”:

  • Learning: about currents, hazards, moving in water, and how to deal with precarious spots.
  • Practicing: swimming in moving current, catching an eddy, diving under the water.
  • Seeing: (with a mask) water against a rock, current and bubble curtains, and the quiet and still space at the river’s bottom.
  • Understanding: river power and river hazards.

The opportunities for river education, through fish and insect identification, river anatomy identification, and understanding of physical hydrology and temperature regimes, are immediate and pervasive. 

Yuba Immersion Camp was a great success, and I am collaborating with a few organizations to expand and fund Immersion Camps educational opportunities in future summers.

Editor's Note: Katrina also recently wrote a story about Immersion Camp for a local newspaper, "Learning ‘river speak’ may save your life".  If you'd like additional information about Immersion Camp, please contact Katrina directly. In addition, we invite you to read about Switzer's support of Katrina's work with the South Yuba River Citizens League as a Senior River Scientist in 2006 and 2007.

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