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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

March 15, 2012 at 9:50 AM

See it for yourself: Access to the Elwha re-opened Friday 3/16

The repairs to the Whiskey Bend Road in Olympic National Park will be complete two weeks early, and the road re-opened to vehicles as of tomorrow, March 16.

Great news, because that’s the main access to the trailhead to the wonderland of the Geyser Valley. The 4.5 mile gravel road connects the Olympic Hot Springs Road to the Whiskey Bend trailhead.

Better yet, the Upper Lake Mills Trail and Upper Lake Aldwell are also re-opened to the public after closure during the ongoing dam removal project. Now’s the time to put on the muck boots and head out to see the astonishing transformation of this landscape, where the reservoirs are draining to reveal the river meandering through vast deltas of sediment impounded behind the dams.

The Upper Lake Mills Trail begins near the Whiskey Bend trailhead and once led to the southern end of the Lake Mils reservoir. Not anymore. WIth 60 feet of the 210-foot high Glines Canyon Dam gone and the reservoir significantly lower, the trail provides hiking access to explore the changing landscape.

From the fantastic to the just plain strange, the delta and re-emerging river are worth seeing — and hearing. Be ready for soft unstable spots, steep banks and deep mud. Use common sense and dress appropriately — boots essential, and bring the camera. You will be a witnessing history as the landscape changes before your eyes.

stump001.jpg

A stump wears a sediment hat, left behind as the reservoir behind Elwha Dam drains. The trees around the river were logged off in preparation for filling the reservoir back when the dam was built in 1910. Built to generate hydropower, the dam had no fish passage. (Photo / John Gussman)

Watch out, while you are at it, for the 30,000 some odd native plants that have been planted to spur revegetation.

For the big picture, here is a before and after of the area above Elwha Dam by photographer John Gussman, who is making a documentary about the restoration of the Elwha. From the overlook motorists whiz by on Route 101 headed out of Port Angeles toward Forks, a new world is revealed:

aldwellB4.jpg

The overlook from Route 101, before and after the start of dam removal. In the top photo, Lake Aldwell — the reservoir behind Elwha Dam — is full and fat in February, 2008, before the start of dam removal. In the lower photograph, taken on February 23, 2012, the river meanders through the sediment delta revealed as the reservoir dropped. Dam removal began last September and is expected to be completed within three years. Photographs by John Gussman

To learn more about the dam removal project, including the management of the sediment behind the dams and revegetation effort, see our special project in the Seattle Times.

You can also check in on the dam removal project on the park service web cams.

If you go: here’s the link for trail conditions. It was snow free mid-week.

For some more of Gussman’s amazing photos of the deltas, have a look at these links of photos taken at former Lake Aldwell

Foot access to the former Lake Aldwell is available by using the Lake Aldwell Road, turning left just west of the Elwha River bridge on SR 101.

The Upper Lake Mills Trail begins near the Whiskey Bend trailhead. To get there, continue on SR 101 past the turn off for SR 112, Turn left on Olympic Hot Springs Road and continue past the Elwha Ranger station. Turn left on Whiskey Bend Road, and follow to the trail head.

For a map to plan your visit, see this link.

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