For more than 100 years, the mouth of the Elwha River was a sterile chute dumping out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Shortly after the dam removal began in 2011, a century’s worth of sediment began to flow downstream in the newly freed currents. And now, five years later, the reborn delta is a complex, thriving tideland with acres and acres of ponds, sloughs and flats–ideal rearing habitat for juvenile salmon and countless nearshore critters.
This weekend, Weston and I found ourselves in Port Angeles for a basketball tournament (his, not mine) and we stole away before Sunday’s games to visit, walk, and throw rocks into ice-covered ponds covering this new-yet-ancient landscape. As with every visit, I found myself buoyed by the rebirth of the Elwha. It’s simply one of the most uplifting places I’ve ever experienced.
I’m not sure if Weston fully appreciates the significance of what’s happened there, or if it’s lost on him, but I know it’s not just a great rearing place for juvenile fish–it’s also perfect for juvenile humans. And adults, too. Visit if you can. Walk into the lower dam site, close your eyes and imagine the canyon filled with stagnant reservoir water, then open them to see the miracle of rapids, flowing water, and gorgeous steelhead runs. Drive down to the mouth and walk the delta beach and feel the power we have to undo past mistakes. I guarantee it will lift your spirits. Next up: The Klamath, the Snake, Matilija Creek, San Francisquito…
Last month I spent a few days on the Clearwater River, outside of Lewiston, Idaho. I hadn’t fished it before, and wanted to experience a salmon and steelhead river so far from the sea. In an icy downstream wind, we found a fast-flowing coldwater river of broad riffles and perfect, cobbled bottom running through hills covered in pine, dry grass and rock. The steelhead were few and far between, but it hardly mattered–this was the kind of water I dream of, in a place of exhilarating beauty.
An eddy was littered with the bodies of spawned out king salmon, and it was hard to look at them and not think of what it took for them to get here. 450 miles. Eight dams. Uncountable threats. And these fish did it as six-inch smolts going downstream, roamed the Pacific Ocean for years, and somehow found their way back as full-grown adults.
The night before, there was a hearing in Lewiston on the removal of the four Lower-Snake River dams. Two weeks later, there was another in Boise on the same day as a crowd rallied and marched in Seattle to bring down these deadbeat dams. There is opposition, for sure, but momentum is building. I can feel it. We need to keep the pressure on, the interest up, and I think we can one day make the trip home easier for thousands of inland salmon and steelhead. I want to be there when it happens.