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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

April 8, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Artistry on the Elwha

As the Elwha comes back to life, animals of every sort are starting to reclaim it … including us.

On a trip out to Lake Aldwell last week, signs of people delighting in this new place were everywhere.

A kid fort within the hollow of a cedar stump beckoned.

A kid fort beckons inside a cedar stump on Lake Aldwell left behind from when loggers cleared the timber before the dam was built in 1910. The stumps were exposed as Lake Aldwell drained when the dam was taken down at this time last year.  Photo by Doug MacDonald

A kid fort beckons inside a cedar stump on Lake Aldwell. The stumps were left behind from when loggers cleared the timber before the dam was built in 1910. The stumps were exposed as Lake Aldwell drained when the dam was taken down at this time last year.
Photo by Doug MacDonald

And along a bend in the Elwha, an anonymous art installation graces a gallery of stumps.

A rock sculpture on a gallery of stumps, gift of an anonymous artist visiting Lake Aldwell. As a new landscape emerges on the Elwha all sorts of animals are checking it out...including us.

As a new landscape emerges on the Elwha, all sorts of animals are checking it out, including us. An anonymous artist makes use of a gallery of stumps in the former Lake Aldwell.                                     Photos by Douglas MacDonald

Stumps become pedestals for a rock sculpture in the former Lake Aldwell.  .  Photo by Douglas MacDonald
Stumps become pedestals for a rock sculpture in the former Lake Aldwell.

Meanwhile the river itself of course creates it own marvel daily. Pilot Tom Roorda graciously shares this photo he took of the delta on April 1. Incredible to see all sediment heaped up, exposed at low tide.

Amy Draut, a research geologist at USGS reports so much sediment has been piled up in the lower river – more than six feet since August, 2012 — that the tidal influence of the river is now much lower than it used to be, pushing the delta further into the near shore — just as Roorda’s photo documents.

The Elwha busily building a new delta at the river mouth.  Photo taken on April 1, 2013 by Tom Roorda

The Elwha busily building a new delta at the river mouth.
Photo taken on April 1, 2013 by Tom Roorda

On a trip to the Elwha last week to collect sediment samples to monitor changes in the size of sediment in the river bed,  Draut, along with Josh Logan and Mark Mastin of USGS and Andy Ritchie of the National Park Service discovered the river bed is now so much higher, that the river is also starting to invade territory it never used to visit except during flood stages.

The Elwha invades what used to be the forest as its rising riverbed pushes it out into its floodplain.  Photo by Amy Draut, USGS, taken in March, 2013.

The Elwha invades what used to be the forest as its rising riverbed pushes it out into its floodplain.
Photo by Amy Draut, USGS, taken in March, 2013.

“It’s amazing to see these changes — we’ve been studying this particular place regularly for 7 years now and had never seen anything like this kind of change” Draut said.   “There’s a whole different feel to the river these days. The water is flowing through trees where you used to see it only in floods, it’s reaching whole areas where it didn’t before.”

She also noticed animal tracks everywhere:  of otter, deer, beaver and birds. Bob cat. Cougar.

But while the watershed is transformed and enlivened, dam removal has come to a standstill. Work remains stopped on deconstruction of the remaining dam, Glines Canyon, because of the break down of the Elwha Water Facilities plant. Problems at the plant started during the first fall rains last October, dam removal is on hold while repairs are underway. For more on that situation, see my story in the Seattle Times.

For now, dam removal isn’t scheduled to resume until July. The park service however predicts that dam removal will still be completed on schedule within the two year contract period, which ends in September 2013.

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