When Stanislaus River archivist Martin Blake transferred the contents of his "Save the Stanislaus" museum to the special collections of the Columbia College Library last week, he told librarian Brian Greene a story that Greene had never heard before.

"Marty just flipped through one of the books he had and told me about it," Greene said. 

It was the story of Mark Dubois, a radical environmentalist who chained himself to rocks in the Stanislaus River Canyon in 1979 to oppose the filling of the New Melones Reservoir. 

"It's clear this was a big deal and a big deal to a lot of people. Now, you drive over the bridge and you see how much water is in there and I don't think much about it beyond that. But looking in the books, you see there's so much more than that," Greene said.

The Stanislaus River Archives is characterized by Blake as a collection of historical narratives concerning the battle to save the Stanislaus River with an emphasis on the Native and Gold Rush history which preceded it.

Once the contents of a downtown Sonora River Museum for many decades, and an exhibit at the Bureau of Reclamation Office near New Melones Reservoir, the museum was up until recently set up in Blake's home.

He wanted to find some place permanent, he told The Union Democrat on Tuesday, a place where it would be retained for future students seeking to explore an environmental, ecological, political and economic movement unique to one of the Mother Lode's most abiding landmarks. Blake said many students at Columbia College today may not know the history of the Stanislaus River because the crescendo of that conflict happened before that time. 

"Most students going there today probably don't have much of an idea of what happened, what occurred in the Stanislaus Canyon, right next to their school," he said. "Many students at Columbia College were involved in this controversy on both sides of the issue."

Blake, then a documentary filmmaking teacher at the University of Southern California, moved to Tuolumne County in 1976, working for an archaeological mitigation company in the canyon.

Even then, Blake said he believed the conflict over the river canyon was "a microcosm of water issues in the United States and around the world." 

He still does now.

"I felt it was important to archive it," Blake said. "Environmental activism is one of the keys to saving the world today, I think. The battle to save the Stanislaus was a precursor of environmental activism and the understanding of water politics in America." 

The archive is considered the most complete documentation of the Stanislaus River saga and the subsequent environmental movement that grew from it. 

The documents include articles from The Union Democrat, letters, information on protests (and counter protests), photographs, maps, speeches, interviews, narratives about the leading characters 

The documents include six binders worth of material (and a seventh overview book) which will be housed in the Special Collections section of the library. 

They will be classified in the alpha-numerical Library of Congress system and alongside other materials related to the Stanislaus River. 

The notebooks are guided by what was lost and what was saved, how people of all sides responded to the proposed flooding of the canyon, the lessons that were learned from it, and the saving of other rivers, Blake said.

"In this collection there are some of the greatest photographs and the greatest writers of the Stanislaus River Canyon," Blake said. "With our world and environmental turmoil today, we need to look back to our past, to how generations took action to change the planet." 

Blake counted among his friends some of the well-known players of the movement, including Ron Pickup, who chained himself to rocks at the same time as Dubois, and Dale Batchelor, a photographer of the region.

"I think it's a very valuable asset to the college, to the students and to the community at large," Blake said. "It's kind of a heavy responsibility to try and get out all of this information." 

The movement to save Stanislaus River Canyon goes back many decades, with Prop. 17 in the 1970s (a narrowly defeated attempt to classify the Stanislaus as a Natural Wild and Scenic River) and a temporary limit on filling the New Melones Reservoir after the dam was completed in 1979. 

The Stanislaus River Canyon eventually flooded in 1982 and 1983 during back-to-back high water years, but the river preservation movement gained international attention due to the peaceful protests by Pickup, Dubois and the Friends of the River advocacy group.

Greene said the items were received last week and are available in the system for students and the public.

Later, Greene hopes to make a more detailed classification of the materials within the binder based on names, locations and other schemata; and even plans to digitize them. 

"One of our duties is to preserve things of a historical nature for the college and the surrounding community so these materials fit within that," he said. 

Green is in charge of managing the day to day operations of the library, which includes serving staff and students with the materials they may need. That responsibility includes working with faculty on specific assignments. 

Green said Dr. Tom Hofstra, a forestry and natural resources instructor at Columbia College, planned to use the materials for some of his classes. 

Hofstra previously worked with Blake in the classroom, Greene said, and coordinated the connection with the library for the donation. 

The materials have not yet been officially accepted by the college, but will likely be done so during the October board meeting, Greene said. 

"There are a lot of unique and historical items of interest in the special collection and I think it's great the college preserves them and makes them available for the community," Greene said. "I think it's a rather impressive collection that clearly took Marty a lot of time to compile." 

The special collection means the documents cannot be checked out of the library, but may be viewed within the library. 

The special collection includes older Gold Rush era paraphernalia, and written and oral materials related to the history of the college and local area, Greene said.

Go to the website www.stanislausriver.org for more information on the history of the campaign to save the Stanislaus River.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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