Beach combers

I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to do this, wander down a long, deserted beach and idly search for a perfect shell or polished stone or piece of glass. If the weather this past weekend is any indication, summer’s called it quits here.

Lyre River 2

As we drove west from Joyce last weekend we followed a sign off Highway 112 to the Lyre River Campground. It’s a tiny spot; there probably are no more than six campsites. But it’s a lovely wooded and remote location on the river.

Lyre River

The Lyre River originates to the south at Lake Crescent and is just slightly more than five miles in length. It empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north.

Bytha Way

A westerly drive last Sunday took us through the small town of Joyce. I don’t know much about Joyce except that it has a summer blackberry festival that sounds like pie lover’s heaven. As we drove into town we first noticed the sign above.

Itsa Creek

Then we came to Itsa Creek.

Uptha Creek

Finally, we passed Uptha Creek.

The creek signs have layers of paint on closer inspection. I’m not sure who put them there but they brightened my day.

Air mail

I saw this recently on the road into Joyce, a tiny community west of Sequim. The box says “Air Mail.”

I can’t remember the last time I saw a letter with red and blue stripes around its border and “Air Mail” printed below the stamp. But the box made me laugh and the memory of air mail letters takes me back to long ago days when I had pen pals in far away places.

Lake Aldwell 3

Our walk through the former Lake Aldwell last month ended in a grove of tree trunks that had been harvested for timber before the valley was flooded behind the Elwah Dam in 1912. The huge trunks were impressive; they’ve been tagged for further study. Other relics have been found in the former lake bed. We were shown the partial carcass of a truck and heard about a wooden wagon wheel that was found, stolen, and then recovered. But much of the area’s history is told in a landscape of tree trunks and huge tangles of downed trees lost for untold years at the bottom of the lake.

Lake Aldwell 4

The river now flows freely. Time and currents are moving and depositing silt that built up behind the dams, altering the mouth of the Elwah River at the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As trees and shrubs return, wildlife is finding its way back. In addition to the fishery restoration I wrote about yesterday, returning birds are the most easily noted, but rangers have seen otters, bears, and elk as well. The changes can be subtle. As the fishery returns, minerals from seagoing fish carcasses are reintroduced to the region after over 100 years, adding new nutrients to the environment. It will be interesting to see how the ecosystem reestablishes in years to come.

In addition to the links I posted yesterday, you can click here for more information, including photos and videos of the final blasts of the Glines Dam.

Lake Aldwell 1

Before we left town last month we went on a ranger-led walk to view the effects of a vast restoration project, the removal of two dams on the Elwah River, west of Port Angeles. Our walk was through the former Lake Aldwell which was created 102 years ago with the building of the Elwah Dam. Seven miles upstream of the Elwah Dam, the Glines Canyon Dam was built in 1927. The Elwah Dam was built by Thomas Aldwell who had quietly bought land throughout the region and was built without permit.Together the dams, which provided electric power, blocked the migration of 10 stocks of anadramous salmon and trout which at one time had been one of the most prolific fisheries on the Olympic Peninsula. The life cycle of an anadromous fish includes migrations from salt water bodies through freshwater rivers where they spawn. Damming the Elwah limited salmon to slightly under five miles of river below the first dam, dramatically affecting the fishery. The removal of these dams is the largest such project in history and the final pieces of the Glines Canyon Dam were taken down last week. In the photo above you can see the former lake level etched in a horizontal line in the distance. Click here and here for more details about the project.

To me the most amazing aspect of this project is how quickly the fish have begun to repopulate the newly opened reaches of the upper Elwah River. Salmon were found above the Elwah Dam not long after its removal and biologists found two radio-tagged trout that had migrated more than 15 miles from the mouth of the river, well past the former Glines Dam, within days of its removal.

Lake Aldwell 2

The Lower Elwah Klallam tribe of Native Americans, who had traditionally relied on the fishery, had protested the Elwah damming from its inception and have been active participants in lobbying for the dam removals and in the current river restoration. Because parts of the river flow through Olympic National Park, the Park Service has also participated in the project.

As the lakes behind the dams were drained re-vegetation of the newly exposed lands was a priority, including elimination of opportunistic noxious and non-native species. The willows above are about four years old and have quickly taken hold. Throughout the area other natives have been planted. Tomorrow I’ll show you more of the project.