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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

March 10, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Elwha River headed back to bed this weekend

Demolition work on Elwha Dam has knocked and clawed the obstruction that has blocked the Elwha’s flow since 1910 nearly out of the river. This dam, illegally built even back then with no fish passage, is nearly history.


In the photo on the left, the wood showing on the sides is what remains of the timbers used to frame concrete forms to build the dam back in 1910.

Glines Canyon dam, just upriver and twice as high, still has lots left to go.

Work will continue on Elwha Dam too, as the contractor hired by the National Park Service keeps chipping away, literally. But crews working on Elwha Dam are almost to the original river bed and will soon be guiding the river back into its natural channel there … perhaps as soon as this today.

Over the next several weeks, flows in the river are going to increase as the dams continue to come out. Then, during the week of March 19, there will be a two-week pause in the action to let the river catch up with the sediment stuck behind the dams that the river is rinsing out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

By now, the level of the water impounded behind what’s left of Elwha Dam is only 49 feet higher than the river bed at the dam site. That’s less the half of what it used to be.

For more on the progress so far on demolition, see the National Park Service’s blog and have a look at the project web cams.

Here are some more dramatic before and afters from John Gussman, the Sequim photographer making a documentary film about the Elwha’s restoration.


Elwha Dam … going, going, almost gone. Top photo taken on Aug. 11, 2011. Bottom photo taken March 5, 2012.

For more on his film project — and more amazing Elwha photos and videos, take a look at his website.

Just as amazing are Gussman’s photos of the revegetation effort on the landscape exposed by the draining reservoirs. Take a look at the work underway he photographed above Elwha Dam this week.

To learn about the scope of this unprecedented revegatation mission, intended to beat out invasive weeds, read my story in The Seattle TImes. There also is a cool interactive graphic on our Elwha project web site about the seeds and native plants being used in the restoration.

And finally, here’s a the big picture. Epic views of a legendary wilderness valley.


These aerial photos were taken by Tom Roorda , with a gopro camera mounted to the tail wheel of his small plane. Roorda’s buddy Gussman stitched the panarama together, showing the Olympic Mountains (looking east) on a glorious day earlier this week.


Mount Olympus …f rom Tom Roorda’s Olympian viewpoint. Photo by Tom Roorda



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