May 27, 2016
For Immediate Release
Contact: Barb Maynes 360-565-3005
Park Cautions Elwha River
Boaters to Avoid Former
Elwha Dam Site
Olympic National Park staff urges all boaters to stay away from the section of river that flows through the former Elwha dam site. This site is located between U.S Highway 101 and State Highway 112, outside of the Olympic National Park boundary. A map of the area will follow within minutes.
Remnants of the dam’s foundation remain in that area of the river and include long pieces of rebar and other metal shards that extend close to the water’s surface. Boulders and swift currents in the area compound the risks and boaters are urged to avoid this section of river.
“The risk of snagging a boat on the remaining metal is high and presents a very real danger to boaters and swimmers,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. “Until we are able to correct this problem later this year, we urge everyone to portage around the old Elwha Dam site.”
The park is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for removing the metal during this summer’s low river flows. Until then, boaters, tubers and swimmers are urged to avoid the section of river through the old Elwha dam site.
The Elwha River is closed to boating from the Smokey Hill Trail (formerly Upper Lake Mills Trail) downstream to the Altair Campground. The river is open to boating from the Altair Campground downstream, but boating through the former Elwha site is strongly discouraged.
The Olympic Hot Springs Road, which provides access into the upper Elwha Valley, remains closed to motor vehicles at the park boundary due to a major road washout. National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration engineers have completed plans for repairing and reopening the road. These plans are currently under review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. These agencies oversee management and protection of threatened and endangered anadromous fish and fish habitat, and are reviewing plans to ensure that threatened Chinook and bulltrout populations are not adversely effected. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and Washington State Department of Ecology are also reviewing the park’s plans. Once plans are approved, construction will begin immediately and is expected to take approximately eight weeks to complete.
The road is open to pedestrians, bicyclists, horses and leashed pets. Trails remain closed to pets and bicycles, as normal. Hikers planning day or overnight hikes into the Elwha Valley will need to begin their hikes at the park boundary. From the closure, it is a seven-mile walk to the Whiskey Bend Trailhead and an eight-mile walk to the Boulder Creek trailhead.
For more information about visiting Olympic National Park, including current road, campground and trail conditions, people should visit http://www.nps.gov/olym.
Public Information Officer
Olympic National Park
Adult: $60Child (ages 8-12): $50Elwha CANYON AdventureClass II/IV(+) – 9 miles
Adult (ages 13+): $75
April-May – 10am and 2pmJune-Sept – 9am, 12:30pm, 4pm
Splash Gear – IncludedBooties – $3.00Gloves – $3.00Wet Suit – $5Cozy Combo – ALL – $9.00
The Ever Changing Elwha River
The Elwha River has experienced drastic changes, the release of millions of cubic yards of sediment, 100 years worth of woody debris, man made objects, etc… During higher flows the river is in a constant state of change (sediment and woody debris shift as flows fluctuate).Safety is our number one priority and although we take every precaution to maintain a safe trip, the Elwha River is a river that is being reborn, a river that is shifting & shaping its way through new landscape and former lake beds, causing sediment and woody debris to become hazardous throughout its course. During this time, the river can be very unpredictable, guests should be of good health and competent swimmers. Guests should listen to any and all safety talks, read/sign the waiver, and make sure to ask any questions prior to going on any river trip.
|Class I: Easy||Waves small; passages clear; no serious obstacles.|
|Class II: Medium||Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear. Requires experience plus suitable outfit and boat.|
|Class III: Difficult||Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering; usually needed. Requires good operator and boat.|
|Class IV: Very difficult||Long rapids; waves high, irregular; dangerous rocks; boiling eddies; best passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required. Demands expert boatman and excellent boat and good quality equipment.|
|Class V: Extremely difficult||Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close study essential but often difficult. Requires best person, boat, and outfit suited to the situation. All possible precautions must be taken.|
|Class VI: Class U||Formerly classified as unrunnable by any craft. This classification has now been redefined as “unraftable” due to people having recently kayaked multiple Class VI around the world.(Some consider rafting on a class VI river suicidal, and only extreme luck or skill will allow you through)|
To ensure we are providing the safest trip possible to our guests, our guide training consists of extensive swift water rescue, 1st aid, emergency communication, guide oarsmanship, and boat handling training in Class III/IV+ whitewater.
Year of the LawThe Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act, or “The Elwha Act” was signed on January 3rd, 1992 by the 102nd Congress of the United States of America. Public Law 102-495 authorized the Secretary of the Interior to acquire the two hydroelectric dam projects and implement the actions necessary to achieve full restoration of the Elwha River and the native anadromous fisheries therein.The FishBefore construction of the dams, native fish used the Elwha River and its diverse habitats for spawning. The inaccessibility created by the dams has seriously diminished all 10 native Elwha River anadromous fish runs, including all five types of Pacific salmon, as well as native char (bull trout and dolly varden), winter and summer-run steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat trout. In addition, sediment has been caught behind the dams, preventing gravel and debris from entering the lower 5 miles of the river, and thus rendering the available reaches practically unsuitable for the spawning of particular populations of native fish.Dam ConstructionThomas Aldwell may be seen as the man behind the dam. Arriving from Canada, Aldwell saw the river and marveled at its beauty. His appreciation of the natural power and force extended beyond a mere appreciation. What he saw was an opportunity for economic gain in the taming of the river, making plans to harness the power of the Elwha River to generate electricity. With the financial backing of Chicago investors and that of Canadian financier George Glines, he bought land along the river and began construction of the Elwha Dam in 1910. A Washington State law established in 1890 required fish passage devices on dams “wherever food fish are wont to ascend,” but Aldwell ignored the requirement. Fish Commissioner Leslie Darwin offered to waive that requirement if Aldwell built a fish hatchery adjoining the dam, so the dam could then be considered necessary for egg collection (Brown 1982). Although Aldwell initially balked at this proposal, a fish hatchery was built and began operation in 1915. It was abandoned by the State in 1922. Elwha Dam is a concrete, gravity structure. Because the dam was secured to the walls of the bedrock canyon, but not the bedrock underlying the river substrate, the foundation blew out in 1912 shortly after the reservoir (Lake Aldwell) filled. This new void under the dam was essentially plugged by adding fill material to the river below and upstream of the dam. Elwha Dam became operational in 1913. At a time when little electricity was available to the peninsula, the hydroelectric dam contributed to local economic prosperity. A demand for more power resulted in the installation of two additional turbines in a second powerhouse at Elwha Dam in 1922. Increasing power demands led to the construction of another dam just eight miles upstream of the Elwha Dam. The location of Glines Canyon with its narrow passage and high bedrock walls promised the yield of large amounts of energy. Glines Canyon Dam became operational in 1927.The WatershedWith 321 square miles of drainage and 70 miles of river and tributaries, the Elwha River is the largest watershed in the peninsula. A large amount, 83%, is located within Olympic National Park, sheltering it and making it a particularly pristine river habitat.
Information provided by Olympic National Park Website