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.
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.
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.
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.
The animals that visitors see at the Clallam County Fair are raised and shown by various 4H clubs. Many of the dogs we saw last Saturday competed in agility trials.
I know the bunnies were judged on their bunniness qualities but for me it was a walk down the Cute Animal isle.
Mama swine had a passel of suckling piglets. While we visited her, 4H members who had raised pigs were moving them through their paces at an auction nearby. Many 4H livestock projects culminate at auctions at the fair. The animals they raise are auctioned and the “project” quickly becomes a commodity.
This rooster had just finished a “cock-a-doodle-doo” serenade.
The cattle are really groomed for showing.
It can probably be argued that a county fair is a holdover from the days when agriculture was front and center in most communities across the U.S. and the business of agriculture — showing prized animals, stock auctions — was a community focal point. That’s less the case in many regions today, but the fair still has value. We need to remember — and children need to learn — where our food and fiber comes from. And maybe it’s because I’m an animal lover, but I believe that humans have a natural affinity for animals. Fairs give some of us a fleeting chance to touch skin to fur and feathers and see animals that aren’t part of our daily lives.
People line up to touch. They ooh and aah over softness or texture, snuggle where they can.
Children have a chance to see and learn, often with babies that are just the right size, without the typical “don’t touch!” warnings.
And the interaction goes both ways.
Loggers, of course, use chainsaws, so no logging show is complete without firing up a couple of them. At the Clallam County Fair two chainsaws were calibrated with matching RPMs and then competitors were timed at how fast they could blast through equally sized logs. The chainsaws are called “stock” saws because they’re standard, off-the-shelf models. It looks like this fellow is taking a moment to pray before he starts but the competition begins with both hands pressed onto the log.
Ready. Set. Go! Grab the chainsaw and start cutting.
It’s over fast. Pine logs were used. Pine is a soft wood. Douglas fir, a harder wood, is also used but I don’t know where or when.
Here’s a twist on the classic dart game: it’s the logger’s version. Grab a big axe, stand about 15 feet away from the target, cock back the axe, and give it a mighty throw.
This fellow made it look almost easy, but then he was the winner. Two women were part of the competition but neither had the broad shoulder leverage to pitch with the strength and accuracy this competition demands. I think it’s a Paul Bunyan kind of thing.
This weekend is the Clallam County Fair and yesterday was the logging show. For the uninitiated (me, for instance), the show is focused on competitive skills: we watched sawing and axe throwing. What you see here is “Jack and Jill” two person manual sawing. Simply said, the couple is timed as they saw through a log as fast as possible. It’s like an instant snapshot metaphor of marriage in action.
Logging is part of the local history and heritage here. I’ll show you more of the action tomorrow.