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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Forester nearing decision

Forester nearing decision

Whitesides Dam, built in 1941, is one of six that might be allowed to slowly erode. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).
Whitesides Dam, built in 1941, is one of six that might be allowed to slowly erode. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2003, The Union Democrat).

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

The Emigrant Wilderness check dams are not easy to get to.

Despite their remote high-country locations — covered in snow more months of the year than not — the Stanislaus National Forest dams have sparked intense controversy for 28 years.

The 18 small walls block streams to ensure water is available all year. But wilderness buffs — who argue that the hand of man has no place in the Emigrant — are at odds with anglers and history buffs who counter that local lore takes precedence.

Now the Forest Service is, for the third time, trying to help the two sides get along.

After a grueling hike over three ridgetops in the Emigrant Wilderness of Stanislaus National Forest, backpackers can reach two of the 18 man-made walls.

Dams at Y Meadow and Whitesides Meadow are the closest to Gianelli Trailhead, east of Highway 108 on the Summit Ranger District. A long summer day provides enough light to get there and back.

The other 16 require at least an overnight hike or horseback ride to reach.

The late Fred Leighton, Civilian Conservation Corps teams and volunteers built the check dams between 1920 and 1951 on East Fork Cherry Creek, North Fork Cherry Creek, Middle Fork Cherry Creek, West Fork Cherry Creek, Lily Creek and Upper South Fork Stanislaus River.

Most of the rock-and-mortar walls were constructed to help support fisheries in the high country — places where fish did not naturally live.

Before the dams were built, packers on horseback carrying buckets annually stocked high-country streams with trout. But each autumn brought a massive fish kill once the streamflow went down.

In 1897, 13-year-old Leighton was inspired by seeing the fish kill, and later helped build the small dams that regulate stream flow and keep the fish alive.

For most people, the dams are out of sight, out of mind.

But there have always been people who visit the wilderness, and some of them see the dams as blights on an otherwise pristine area.


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