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Local teacher fundraises to preserve Tuolumne River
feather raft pic
Elias Ruiz will participate in the Tuolumne River Trusts Paddle to the Sea fundraising event on the Feather-Raft, his own invention that won the Stanislaus Innovation Challenge. - photo by Photo Contributed

Dutcher Middle School teacher Elias Ruiz was browsing online for a map of the Tuolumne River last year when he came across a link for the Tuolumne River Trust’s Paddle to the Sea event.

“I was like hey! This is like my backyard. Why not help support?” recalled Ruiz. “I hunt it, I fish it, and this is a way for me to give back.”

This year will mark Ruiz’s second year participating in the annual paddle-a-thon event which is a fundraiser for the preservation of the river. Participants are charged with starting a fundraising team and the money raised goes towards Rim Fire recovery efforts for the Tuolumne River as well as education efforts to highlight the importance of conversation during the drought. It also provides the Tuolumne River Trust the opportunity to raise awareness of the shared dependence the community has on the river.

The Tuolumne River Trust acts as the voice of the Tuolumne River dedicated to promoting stewardship of the natural resource through education, community outreach, and on the ground restoration projects like Paddle to the Sea.

Paddle to the Sea is a six-week event that takes participants from the headwaters of the Tuolumne River right outside of Yosemite National Park all the way to Aquatic Park in San Francisco. Similar to a jog-a-thon where runners can trade off laps, participants of the paddle-a-thon choose how involved they will be. While some will paddle the more than 100 miles of the river, others like Ruiz have signed up for different legs of the journey.

Ruiz spends a lot of time on the river on his Feather-Raft, which is a lightweight structure designed to float steadily on water. He invented the item and won a $2,500 prize in the Stanislaus County Innovation Challenge in 2014.

In December Ruiz was out on his raft on the Tuolumne River early one Sunday morning duck hunting and discovered a man in the water. Ruiz pulled the disoriented man from the river and was credited with saving his life.

Ruiz will be taking his raft on the river for the paddle-a-thon in May while other participants will canoe, kayak, and more.

The dates of the annual event based on the area of the river being traversed and those interested in more information can go to

Those interested in donating to Ruiz’s Paddle to the Sea team can access