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Newly opened river stretch blends natural, manmade thrills

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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The historic Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge serves as a reminder of the rich history of the Auburn area shortly after the rafts hit the water just past the confluence of the North fork and the Middle fork of the American River. After a few tame rapids and miles of beautiful scenery, the Auburn Dam site and the man-made rapids alongside the Placer County Water Agency pump house are a nod to what those in the rafting business hope is a bright future for the area. Eight whitewater rafting companies were granted permits to a new route on the Middle Fork in mid-May and commercial trips will likely take place with regularity throughout the summer months. Norm Schoenhoff has owned Whitewater Excitement since its inception in 1979. The majority of the company?s business takes place on the South Fork of the American River, starting in Lotus. But he believes the quick trip down the Middle Fork could be a great option for folks looking for a relaxing float on weeknights or a quick weekend trip. ?There are really only a few rapids ? nothing over Class II, maybe Class III,? Schoenhoff said. ?It would be a good family trip or a good trip for kids.? Guides have the option of starting near the Highway 49 Bridge, or heading up the Quarry Trail via van and putting in on the Middle Fork. The water moves along at a leisurely pace, allowing boaters to take in the remarkable landscape and wildlife. The peaceful river winds through the steep canyon just below Auburn and gives even longtime Auburn residents a unique perspective of the area. The trip ends with a bang. As the boats come up on the Auburn Dam site, the man-made whitewater rapids get the adrenaline pumping. A series of rapids makes for an exciting finale to the trip, which can be done in just over an hour. The man-made rapids were put in as part of the Bureau of Reclamation?s project to restore water flow to the area following the excavation originally intended for construction of the Auburn Dam. Another phase of the project included a take-out area just south of the dam site near China Bar, which the rafting companies intend to put to good use. Schoenhoff said the ?pump house rapids? are ideal for kayakers, who can play in the waves, take out just below and use the concrete path to hike back up and make another run. They?re a highlight of the raft trips, as well. ?I think the (California Department of Parks and Recreation) wants to see more people using this part of the river,? Schoenhoff said. ?By issuing these permits, more people will be able to see this area and I think they?ll want to come back.? Reach Todd Mordhorst at toddm @goldcountrymedia.com.