Elwha Exposé

During our four-day trip to Olympic National Park, the In My Backyard Team headed to the Elwha River. Beforehand, we, the SCA interns had put together some research to share with the group about the history of the Elwha, the construction of the dam, and finally the dam removal which is scheduled to conclude in September 2014.

To give you some background information, the Elwha is a 45-mile river on the Olympic Peninsula, intersecting the beautiful Olympic National Park. The river flows north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In 2012, the Elwha River dams, which had directly caused a dramatic decline in the salmon population, began to be removed.

           According to the National Park Service, the Elwha River is one of the few bodies of water in the Pacific Northwest with all five species of Pacific salmon. Before the 108-ft Elwha Dam and 210-ft tall Glines Canyon Dam were added to the landscape beginning in 1910, 400,000 adult salmon journeyed annually from the Pacific Ocean to the Elwha River to spawn in 70 miles of river habitat. Today, less than 4,000 salmon spawn in only 4.9 miles of river habitat every year.

After researching the history of the Elwha and the Restoration of the Elwha River River Project, we walked along the Elwha River and checked out what remains of Lake Aldwell. First we stopped by the charming Elwha River ranger station to look at old pictures from the dam and pet an adorable (stuffed) barn owl. On this rainy, chilly day (typical Seattle weather, unfortunately it occasionally carries into the summer), Lake Aldwell was beautiful and misty. Jimi, our University of Washington intern, noted that the lake would be a perfect set for an alternative album cover. Also good news! Beginning Tuesday August 19, Olympic National Park rangers will be giving guided interpretive tours of the lake. The free two-hour tours will be offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Sundays through September 2. Contact the Olympic National Park Visitor Center for more details. Lake Aldwell has been drained and as we walked around the Lake we could view the shifting sediments, in surprising bright shades of orange and red, old and new vegetation sprouting from the former lakebed, and giant tree stumps that were petrified underwater for decades, which we found were extremely fun to climb on.


The Team exploring Lake Aldwell

There are also a few great hikes in the area that we definitely recommend. Starting at the Whiskey Bend trailhead, the Lake Humes Loop is around 6 miles and is a fantastic way to see the Elwha River Valley. Check the Washington Trails Association (WTA) website for details about the hike because depending which way you go, the elevation gain can be significant. Features along the trail include forest with dense vegetation, sweeping views of the river, rapids at Goblin Gates and historic structures. If you are feeling ambitious, head to the 10 mi Happy Lake Ridge Trail. A steep climb (3.709 ft!) through forest leads you to a scenic ridge and lake. Make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks!

If you are seeking a more watery adventure, check out Olympic Raft & Kayak, which offers guided whitewater rafting trips on the Elwha, located at 123 Lake Aldwell Road off of Highway 101.

Sophie, SCA Intern

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