Casey’s Community Coastal Column, Featuring the Smith River Alliance

By Casey Cruikshank

In keeping with the collaborative spirit of Coastal Programs at the NEC, this month I’m featuring the Smith River Alliance and their wonderful watershed stewardship. I had the pleasure of speaking with Tara Dettmar, Programs Coordinator at the Smith River Alliance and below are some of her words from our interview:


The Smith River Alliance (SRA) was incorporated in 1980 as a non-profit organization of conservation, sport fishing, recreation, and civic groups united in their support for sound management of the Smith River as the “Crown Jewel” of the California Wild and Scenic Rivers systems. Our mission is to provide for the long-term, landscape scale protection, stewardship and restoration of watershed and county resources and habitat. SRA led the campaigns that brought the Smith River and its tributaries (397 miles) into the National Wild and Scenic River System (1981) and established the Smith River National Recreation Area (1990).

Smith River Alliance Coastal Clean-Up Day. Photo credit, Bryant Anderson III

SRA programming is vast and encompasses a variety of projects that focus on protection, stewardship and restoration.  

Protection- SRA has played a key role in the long-term protection of the watershed, most significantly by acquiring private inholdings throughout the watershed to create the Smith River National Recreation Area. SRA was also a key partner in the Mill Creek Acquisition, the basins Coho stronghold, that is now seeing a resurgence of restoration efforts through the Redwood Rising initiative. 

We also raise awareness about potential threats to the health of the river. When a foreign-owned company proposed a nickel strip mine on the North Fork Smith River and other regional waterways, threatening the health and livelihood of downstream communities, SRA created the campaign that led to safeguarding the river with a 20 year mining ban. 

Stewardship- We offer regular stewardship events and programs catered to individuals and organizations. We have hosted immersion camps, naturalist programs, group hikes and river trips. If any of your readers have an idea for an event and would like to utilize our facilities and/or staff, send us an email! We can help to create a unique and unforgettable experience based in education, adventure and stewardship. 

We also have a handful of long running annual and biannual events. These include the Annual Adult Fish Count, which is likely how many of our Humboldt supporters know of us, and River and Coastal cleanups. 

Restoration- I encourage folks to head over to our website ( to check out some of SRA’s livelier restoration efforts. You can watch a sped-up version of a culvert removal on Cedar Creek and read about the immediate return of Coho after the removal of a culvert on Hamilton Creek. There is also information on our current efforts to restore the Smith River coastal plain, including the ever-important estuary, nursery to the salmonids that are so important to this region. 

The Alliance has been organizing annual River cleanups around the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) for more than a decade. In 2017 we moved these cleanups to the coast due to excessive smoke around the NRA and the fact that there weren’t any coastal cleanups being organized in Del Norte. Last year’s cleanup drew more volunteers than ever before. In the past we would average around 50 participants, but in 2019 we worked to involve more of the community. We had 720 students from two schools, 70 participants at our annual cleanup in Crescent City and 43 participants at a new event in Smith River co-hosted by Tolowa Dee-n’ Nation, bringing the total of volunteers to 833. Needless to say, we removed more garbage than ever before — nearly 7 tons!

Smith River Alliance Coastal Clean-Up volunteers. Photo credit, Bryant Anderson III

When we are cleaning up public spaces, plastics are the number one culprit: unbranded bottle caps, clear baggies, and trash bags. These cleanups often take place on the coastline where birds, fish and mammals can ingest or get caught up in plastic waste. But let’s not discount how hazardous the other littered items can be. When we go into areas that are known dumping grounds or former encampments the list and size of items is much larger. There are kitchen appliances, scraps from home improvement projects, shopping carts, tarps, and so much more, many of which can leach hazardous materials into the soil and groundwater.  

To help us suss out the big culprits, in terms of quantity, we recruited Organic Essence

Smith River Alliance Coastal Clean-Up volunteers. Photo credit, Bryant Anderson III

(OE), a local, organic body care company whose products come in plastic-free packaging. OE conducted a waste audit and subsequent report on the variety of litter that was being picked up. It can be found on their website or through a quick google search. 

When I was still doing fisheries work for the Alliance, we would find all sorts of stuff while we were out in the field and our crew came to have a prized collection at our field house of all the weird trash we’d found. There were iPhones, guns, an — ahem — adult movie, and a really lovely silver, scallop plate that was found not once, but twice after it fell off the pack of the first biologist who found it.

I had my first volunteer experience with SRA at a Fish Count a decade ago and from that moment I vowed that I would someday live and work on that river. Now here I am, advocating for one of the most beautiful places on earth. Spend some time on it and it will change your life. We could ALWAYS use help on our various watershed projects and seek volunteers with an array of skill sets. Give us a call or send an email and we’ll be sure to provide a meaningful volunteer experience you won’t soon forget. We have a beautiful off-grid property called Rock Creek Ranch, located several miles up the South Fork of the Smith River, where we love to host volunteer events. Help us chop some wood or do some brushing and be rewarded by a dip in the aptly named majesty pool that sits just below some prime camping real estate and an outdoor kitchen. 

Casey Cruikshank
Casey is the NEC's Office Support & Programs Coordinator.