By Jon Schwedler/ The Nature Conservancy
I felt like Snow White with a beard.
Ahead of me 6 little dwarves hopped down the forest trail to the Little Truckee River, high in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. The little dwarves were even singing the "Hi-Ho" song, albeit off-tune and missing most of the words except, well, "Hi-Ho."
Two of the dwarves were my young sons; the four other youngsters belonged to two other neighborhood fathers, along for our long-anticipated "Daddy Camping Trip." This early morning I had volunteered to take all of the kids down for some minnow fishing by myself.
Fifteen minutes later I was dashing back up that trail, desperate for toilet paper and a trowel. Seeing my panic one of the other fathers asked, "You need any help?"
Sometimes outdoor adventures with young kids can be more adventure than you bargained for. But, of course, my boys still love to talk about this trip at the dinner table today—the minnow fishing, the snakes we caught, the birds we saw, the campfire, their friends, the cold river, and don’t forget the s'mores.
These memories of a lifetime were created in Tahoe National Forest, about two hours from my house in Sacramento. And turns out we weren't alone out there— last year 165 million other people visited a National Forest last year just for fun, supporting 200,000 jobs.
Those jobs include the camp store clerk who sold us graham crackers and marshmallows. Those jobs include the timber workers up the hill from the Little Truckee River, paid by The Nature Conservancy to thin overgrown brush at Independence Lake, a source of drinking water for Reno, Nevada.
After the last of the tents were taken down and the Daddy Camping Trip was over, I stole back up to the Little Truckee River weeks later to do some fishing by myself (somehow 4-year-old boys aren’t conducive to successful fishing).
I shared the river that day with a bold kingfisher, who chastised me for horning in on his fishing spot. Besides his chattering I was alone with the fish, the river, and the sound of my line. I had time to fully appreciate all of the work the Conservancy and its partners have done for Truckee waters—from high Independence Lake all the way down to the lower Truckee River past Reno.
That appreciation coalesced with tugs on the line, and the several beautiful small rainbow trout I caught and released that day. As they slipped back in the water and their spots disappeared among the riffles, I was awash in gratitude.