The Visitor Center and Museum are open Memorial Weekend through Labor Day, seven days a week, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. From Labor Day through Memorial Weekend it is open five days a week, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Volunteers and ranger staff are available to provide you information, maps and orientation to New Melones Lake and other local interests.
You may call the Visitor Center at: 209-536-9543 (TTY 800-877-8339).
The New Melones Lake Visitor Center and Museum were completed as a part of the New Melones project in 1992. The facility was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation to address a Memorandum Of Agreement (MOA) for Cultural Resources as mitigation for the loss of archeological, historical and cultural resources and sites as a part of the New Melones project. This agreement was entered into by the Bureau of Reclamation, California State Historic Preservation Office, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Its main purpose is to present the public with information on the use of the Stanislaus River by prehistoric and historic peoples. The New Melones Lake area has been occupied for more than 9,000 years. The lands adjacent to the Stanislaus River contain hundreds of prehistoric and historic archeological sites. The area was important during the California Gold Rush and subsequent mining periods. In more recent years, the New Melones Lake area has been of interest to water users, power production, and recreation.
The New Melones Lake Visitor Center and Museum contains displays and exhibits on the area's geologic past, Mi-Wok Indian and early human history, the California Gold Rush, mining techniques, ranching, the town of Robinson Ferry, natural history, and the New Melones project.
The Museum highlights some of the methods and techniques used to mine gold, from hydraulic to placer mining. In the Museum is an example of an ore cart used during the Gold Rush. This one was donated by the Vonich family, which had emigrated here in the 1890's from Croatia. Their mine was located southeast of Bear Mountain and the family homestead site in Vonich Gulch was acquired as a part of the New Melones project.
The community of Robinson Ferry, renamed Melones in 1902, was an important crossing point on the Stanislaus River for gold seekers and travelers. By 1863, the town had two saloons, a restaurant, three general stores, a community hall, hotel and several gaming establishments. This photo shows the Manual Airola General Store around 1870. The gold mining era depended on immigrants from many countries, and in 1880 approximately 50 percent of the population in Robinson Ferry were immigrants.
Visitors can view some of the wildlife that inhabits the New Melones Lake area. A black bear, coyote, mountain lion and ring-tailed cat are a part of our display on the animals of the foothills ecosystem.
When the New Melones project was under construction in the late 1970's, there was public concern about its construction. The project inundated thousands of acres of agricultural, historical and archeological lands. This debate generated interest in the local area and throughout California. “Friends of the River” supporters were countered by “Friends of New Melones” advocates. This controversy brought about new awareness in California's approach to water management and conservation.
Past activities and demonstrations have included: a casting demonstration, a fish biology display, a lake ecology presentation, a stream simulator, a fire prevention demonstration, water safety and boating safety presentations provided by the Calaveras County and Tuolumne County Boat Patrol, animal tracks, fish imprinting, gold panning interactive programs and a habitat protection demonstration by the California Department of Fish & Game.
National Public Lands Day is the nation's largest hands-on volunteer effort to improve and enhance the public lands American's enjoy. In 2005, nearly 90,000 volunteers built trails and bridges, planted trees and plants, and removed trash and invasive plants on public lands across the country. In most areas, the event is held in late September. The public is invited to join the events held on federal, state and local public lands and parks.
Evening programs may include a slide presentation, music, stories and activities about the cultural and natural history of New Melones Lake. Topics have included: eagles, bats, mammals, Mark Twain and the Jumping Frog, and the California Gold Rush.
Junior Ranger programs include activities and games for children to learn about subjects such as the plants, animals, history, water safety and geology of New Melones Lake. The programs are open to children 5+ years old. A parent or guardian must be present during the program. By participating in a program and completing activities in a Jr. Ranger handbook, children are able to earn a special badge and gift, making them a “New Melones Junior Ranger.”
During the fall, winter and spring interpretive park rangers at New Melones Lake provide walks and hikes to explain the area's cultural and natural history. Visitors can hike to Natural Bridges and learn about the unique geologic history, or hike to the top of Table Mountain and learn about the diverse wildflowers found there. Hikes vary in difficulty and length.
During the school year, interpretive park rangers at New Melones Lake provide curriculum-based programs for elementary schools focusing on the water cycle, water conservation, and wise water use. Other topics may be covered upon request.
Scouts may earn a badge by completing a service project, interpretive hike or other program. Other groups are also welcome to schedule an interpretive program with a Park Ranger.
To schedule a program for your school or group, contact Ranger Mike McGraw at 209-536-9094 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is no charge to attend any program sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation at New Melones Lake.
Contact the visitor center for more information on upcoming programs and events. The visitor center is located 1/4 mile south of the Highway 49, Stevenot Stanislaus River Bridge, that spans New Melones Lake, 8 miles (13 km) north of Sonora and 6 miles (9 km) south of Angels Camp. It is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week from Memorial Weekend through Labor Day. During the remainder of the year it is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Or you may call the visitor center at 209-536-9543.
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