When my editor, Kim Rubenstein, asked me to write a story for
people who wish to check out the Elwha River restoration, it seemed
like a good idea. After playing the role of tourist for a day, I’m
convinced that many visitors will have a good time learning about
this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Looking upstream where the Elwha
River flows into an empty Lake Mills, the upper reservoir. /
Photo by Steve Zugschwerdt
I wrote a story for
Sunday’s Kitsap Sun that describes where you can go to see the
river and various features of the restoration project. The area map
we created for the newspaper can be downloaded and taken with you.
here for map (PDF 438 kb).
Learning about the natural features of the Elwha River watershed
is an important part of the experience. Before you leave home, I
recommend that you view a series of “webisodes”
on the Olympic National Park website. I’m told these videos by
Wings Over Watersheds are a sampling of what will eventually become
a longer video production.
A more complete story about the Elwha Restoration Project,
including a history of the two dams, has been captured in a new
book by Seattle Times reporter Linda Mapes. I wrote a
review of her book, “Elwha: A River Reborn,” to accompany my
visitor’s guide to the area.
I think kids and adults alike will enjoy playing around with a
Glines Canyon at Feiro Marine Life Center, where one can pull
out the dam and watch the sediment move downstream.
Randall Walz, director of education and volunteers at the
center, told me about misconceptions that some people have. Many
believe that the sediment in the Elwha moved downstream and piled
up behind the dams, he said. Instead, most of the sediment was
dropped off in the upper portion of the two reservoirs, where the
water slowed down as it entered the lakes.
The restoration work included digging a pilot channel through
the Lake Mills delta to form a new channel and guide the river
through the trapped sediment. The goal is not to move the sediment
downstream as quickly as possible, Walz said, but rather to
stabilize the deltas and allow them to erode over a longer period
If you want to see change, be sure to visit the mouth of the
Elwha River, which you reach from a dike trail at the end of Place
Road. Wherever you see sand, that’s change, because there was no
sand here before, said Anne Shaffer of the Coastal Watershed
The sandy habitat will better support the migration of juvenile
salmon and provide spawning areas for sandlance, a forage fish. The
decline of the rocky habitat could mean the end of tall kelp, but
researchers hope the new sandy habitat will support the growth of
eelgrass and a burgeoning community of diverse plants and animals.
Check out the
story I wrote in March, following a conference on the nearshore
changes taking place.
I have to say there’s not a lot of excitement to behold in the
upper portions of the two reservoirs unless you remember what it
was like when the lakes were in place or can visualize the enormity
of the change. The river now carves its way through a dry lake bed,
where one can see large old-growth stumps, which were either under
water or buried by sediment. Plants are coming back, some placed
there by restoration workers, others by natural processes.
With or without the dams, one can enjoy the escape into this
natural area, particularly as one moves into the higher trails in
Olympic National Park. Be sure to take time to enjoy the natural
surroundings, even if you need to cut out parts of your planned
If you want to observe the changes over time, I suggest you find
a vantage point and take a picture during your visit. When you
return the next time, take another picture for comparison. The
heavy gravel and silt seems fairly inhospitable at the moment. But
if you return again and again, I expect you’ll be amazed at the
transformation taking place over the next few years.
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