Major mitigation projects have been completed, the road to the lower Elwha Dam has been closed and the road to the upper Glines Canyon dam will be closed Aug. 1 so it looks like the Elwha River restoration project is going ahead and there’s no stopping the costly dam removal projects.
Removing the dams, one in Olympic National Park, will be the largest removal project in U.S. history and will free the Elwha River after 100 years.
Salmon populations will swell, the figures reveal, from 3,000 to more than 300,000 as all five species of Pacific salmon return to more than 70 miles of river and stream.
As I was walking from Altaire Campground to the Glines Canyon dam over the July 4 holiday, I thought about first experiences on Lake Mills …
My dad used to take me fishing on Mills. I never understood why we had to be on the lake at daybreak, but I remember stopping at the Waumila Lodge (about where the ranger station is today) to rent the boat. Boats were locked by chain on the Lake Mills dock at the launch. You had to pick up a key from the lodge and get the oars before getting to the lake.
Once the lock was removed, the trusty 7.5 horsepower Evinrude outboard was attached securely and it was off for the head of the lake.
We always anchored off Cat Creek, which flowed into the lake next to the Elwha. Dad always found the right depth without an electronic gadget and the anchor was lowered gently so as not to scare the fish.
Braving the wind, wet
Worms or periwinkles were bait of the day and we always got a limit of trout each before 8 a.m. and headed back to the boat launch. We learned early that if you didn’t leave by 8 a.m., the wind came up through the canyon and made travel in those old boats wet, at best.
Several times we waited too long and had to beach the boat at Wolf Creek where we kept warm with a small fire and headed home when the lake calmed near dusk.
Rainbow trout and those Dolly Varden were big in those days, averaging 10-12 inches, and the limit was eight fish.
I remember cleaning fish by the boat launch, heading home and then it being hard to wait for Mom to fry those fish to feed the five of us.
There are more stories about the lake, but as I looked up the lake from the dam, I noticed the lake was down some 18 or so inches and the gray silt-covered sunken logs were not a pretty sight.
I walked slowly down the road, stopping at the powerhouse to lament that no water was coming through the outfall. Workers from the Montana construction company were touring the vacated facility and that building, too, will be gone soon.
On Aug. 1, the Olympic Hot Springs Road will be closed to public access just above the campground and will remain closed until the project is finished.
I wonder if I will be able to walk up along the river fishing trails between Altaire and the dam?
Watching the full river flow by, I almost could see the salmon swimming upstream near the bridge and the eagles and the bears coming down to feast on the salmon carcasses.
I probably will be long gone by then, but those who have drawn up the Elwha River restoration plan say natural wonders never cease.
I hope they are right.
Reach Scooter Chapman at email@example.com.
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