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Save the American River Association Is Preserving the Parkway

The American River Parkway—a 30-mile stretch that runs from Folsom Dam to American River’s confluence with the Sacramento River and consists of numerous small parks and boat launching points—is the jewel in our region’s crown, but did you know there’s a group of tireless activists who not only helped bring the parkway to fruition but have also been fighting to protect it for over 60 years? 

Save the American River Association (SARA) was founded in 1961 to lead the charge for the establishment of the American River Parkway; ever since, they’ve been the gatekeepers for the protection and enhancement of the parkway’s wildlife habitat, fishery, and recreational resources.

Stephen Green


SARA President Stephen Green has been active with the organization since 1985 and his passion for the cause is unmistakable: “I have lived adjacent to the American River Parkway since 1979. It’s an environment that I love and was a wonderful [place] to raise my two children. At first light this morning, there were nine deer bedded down in my backyard. What SARA activists do on behalf of the [American River] Parkway isn’t work—it’s a calling.” 

Bald eagles nesting on the American River Parkway

What spurred his involvement? Back in 1985 Green was president of the Lake Natoma Heights Homeowners Association and lived on the bluff above the lake. Through SARA, Green learned that the state had approved a permit for the establishment of an RV park on Lake Natoma (where the Sacramento State Aquatic Center is today). Recalls Green, “We filed a lawsuit and were able to stop the project. I’ve been involved with SARA ever since.”

In 1961, when SARA was first established, the Lower American River Corridor was far from the vista we know today and more of, shall we say, an eyesore. Says Green, “In SARA’s early years, most of the advocacy involved property acquisition for the parkway and removal of a sewage plant, a tavern, and other development.” 

The transformation we see today is a testament to SARA’s advocacy and tireless hours working with local, state, and federal governments; concerned citizens; business leaders; and like-minded organizations. For Green, one of the most meaningful victories of recent years was the 20-year-long litigation to prevent the East Bay Municipal Utility District from diverting water to the Folsom South Canal below Nimbus Dam. “The diversion would have caused dire consequences for the environment and fishery in the Lower American River. SARA’s legal expenses exceeded $700,000. And we won. The diversion didn’t happen.”

Today, SARA’s biggest challenge is to save and restore the fishery in the Lower American River. “[It] has been devastated, and we’ve been working for years to establish higher minimum water flows and lower temperature standards in the river, [which we’re] close to getting accomplished,” says Green. 

Support for SARA is only possible with strong and ongoing community support. “SARA has one employee, our office manager, who works 20 hours per week; all our advocacy is done by volunteers. People who wish to support SARA are invited to join the organization [or] support it financially.” 

by  Sharon Penny