Witness The Elwha River Restoration

Elwha River Restoration near Sequim, WashingtonThough we focus primarily on the many wonderful facets to living in the charming Sequim-Dungeness Valley, we can’t ignore the broader beauty and attractions on the Olympic Peninsula. Though locally we are very familiar with the mighty Dungeness River, the nearby Elwha River has become one of the most significant rivers on the Olympic Peninsula.  As all rivers ultimately do, the Elwha River, just west of our neighbor Port Angeles, was a critical connection between mountains and Sea.  It was once an ideal habitat for 11 different varieties of spawning salmon and trout.  In the early 1900’s, two dams were placed on the upper and lower portions of the river, thus helping to fuel rapid growth and change on the Peninsula.  Unfortunately, until their removal between 2011-2014, these dams drastically impacted the upstream migration of local salmon populations, and disrupted the natural flow of the river and upstream sediments.

Freeing the Elwha

Elwha River Restoration near Sequim, WashingtonToday, the Elwha River Restoration is an amazing site to behold, and has become a model for dam removal on rivers across the country.  Despite decades of human interference, the Elwha River once again flows freely from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Dramatic changes to the river’s course, former lakebeds, and even the mouth of the Elwha are incredible to witness.  It may take more than a generation for the Elwha to return to it’s original state, but the journey along the way has proven to be a fascinating one.  Among other positive changes to the river, there are now more than 70 miles of protected river habitat in which salmonids can return to spawn. With key protections in place, scientists hope to revitalize a declining fish population and right many of the wrongs done to this valuable ecosystem.

This fall is a wonderful time to head out to the river, where you can view the ever-changing landscapes and the river valley’s return to the wild.  You may even catch a glimpse of spawning salmon along their journey; always a spectacular site to see.  Though there are several places from which to view the Elwha, the two best places are the Elwha Dam Viewpoint off Lower Dam Road, and the mouth of the river, which is easily accessible via a dike trail at the end of Place Road.  You can even take a tour with local guides.

Whenever it is you visit the breathtaking Elwha River Valley, know that it will look dramatically different a year or more from now.  Visiting this restoration project is truly one worthy of your time.