Four years ago, and for 100 years before that, the mouth of the Elwha River was a sterile chute running into the Strait of Juan de Fuca at a 90-degree angle. There was no habitat for juvenile salmon to rest in, feed or acclimate to salt water, and no beach to speak of. It was, in a word, depressing.
But look at it now! The sediment that was trapped behind the dams is making its way to the sea, and creating a spectacular estuary and delta. This is ideal salmon habitat, the kind necessary for thriving runs of wild fish, and all those sloughs, tidal ponds and flats are home to countless juvenile salmon, sea-run cutthroat, bull trout and forage fish. For humans, there are acres of new beach and, on the rare occasion when the swell lines up right, a world-class surf break.
But there’s still plenty to be done. My friends at the Coastal Watershed Institute are working year-round to monitor and restore the nearshore waters, and document the changes taking place. A huge thank you to Anne Schaffer for leading the charge, and to Tom Roorda who provided the aerial photo above. The Elwha dam removal and restoration is one of the great environmental stories of our times. I highly recommend a visit. To witness what’s happening there is just good for the soul.