In 1909, 100 pound chinook salmon spawned here amidst the lush ferns and old growth log jams of Glines canyon—13 miles from the ocean in Olympic National Park’s Elwha river. Salmon runs 400,000 strong were not uncommon here. In 1910 the first dam was completed downstream, and the Elwha’s fate was sealed along with many other rivers in the Pacific northwest. Electricity was in high demand, and it was delivered at the expense of many thriving river ecosystems.
99 years later, the sound of an excavator-mounted jack hammer reverberates off the 210 foot Glines Canyon Dam as crews begin the painstaking process of chipping away at its towering, aging facade. The high pitched metallic sound of the steel hammer against the concrete replaced what would typically be a low rumble from antique turbines in the powerhouse just across the river. 20 years in the making—this historic moment marks the beginning of the largest dam removal project in history.
As the machine nibbled away the first bites of Glines Canyon Dam—a complicated, invitation-only, overly secured celebration began downstream. Various politicians including Washington’s Governor and the Secretary of the Interior gathered to kiss each other’s asses and congratulate the Lower Klallum Tribe for winning a battle to help regain their identity.
The most poignant and stirring moment of the gathering wasn’t delivered by a thoughtful speech or a native american song. As the crowd found their seats, a stunning sight was quietly revealed below the Elwha dam in the spillway. 73 Chinook salmon were circling a rocky, emerald green pool—making regular curious and confused passes by the face of the dam. It’s been 99 years since these fish lost 70 miles of habitat, yet they are still trying to go home. I don’t think anyone could gaze down into that pool Saturday and not be moved by what they saw. That image was infinitely more profound than any word spoken that day. [bk]