The Mighty T – The Tuolumne River

From Glacier to Golden Gate
Tom Stienstra’s Great Outdoors

Synopsis: From Glacier to Golden Gate

This is an adventure documentary with world-class visuals and environmental ramifications. We will trace the Tuolumne River from its first drops from the melting Lyell Glacier atop Yosemite’s wilderness high country to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, where we will turn a faucet and drink these same symbolic drops of water.

The story is propelled forward by adventure as we follow the water, and in the process, venture across California from east to west. To follow that symbolic drop of water, we will mountain climb, glacier climb, backpack, canyoneer, raft, boat, kayak, canoe and bicycle, all amid world-renowned landmarks and beauty.

The land’s history and its inhabitants provide a natural backstory. It spans from ancient Native Americans who ventured along the entire river, to gold miners, loggers and farmers who conformed the landscape to fit their needs. Along the way, we will confront a series of environmental issues of epic scope. They include:

  • The conversion of a brackish-water Delta wetlands, which support a wildlife paradise for waterfowl, into a saltwater marsh that would not support waterfowl.
  • A warming planet and the melt off and disappearance of the Lyell Glacier
  • The site of the third largest wildfire in California history in 2013
  • The future of California’s wild salmon, and in the high country, flourishing populations of black bear
  • The proposal to return Hetch Hetchy to a second Yosemite Valley
  • The draining of California’s major reservoirs and long-term issue over the West being able to supply enough water for agriculture and growing populations
  • San Francisco’s water plumbing, which provides hydropower and Tuolumne water, which benefits millions of San Francisco Bay Area residents — and a landmark $4.6 billion dollar project underway to rebuild its infrastructure.

The final result is an epic adventure amid a varied and stunning landscape with world-class beauty and landmarks, with environmental overtones and the shadow of John Muir along the entire route. In the process, the adventure documentary – The Mighty T, The Tuolumne River — becomes the platform for a debate on the future of North America’s marquee rivers: to protect their integrity for future generations, and yet to provide water and electricity for growing populations, and how it can be done where everybody wins.

Show production & broadcast strategy

From Glacier to Golden Gate with Tom Stienstra
The production and broadcast strategy is to provide PBS outlets with thirteen 30-minute episodes and one 30-minute ‘behind the scenes’ episode, designed for broadcast as seven back-to-back one-hour episodes in a seven-week adventure series, or as thirteen 30-minute episodes over 13 weeks. This gives each PBS outlet the ultimate flexibility to fit the series to their formatting schedules.

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