Freeing the Elwha River

Comin’ Home!


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On our last day before leaving Port Angeles we drove into Olympic National Park to see the Madison Creek Falls.  Its an easy, paved, wheelchair accessible walkway up to the foot of the falls.



Paved walkway

Madison Falls

It was crowded so we took a few pictures then decided to explore the area a little more by car.  It was raining lightly on and off and the fog was coming across the mountains.

Fog creeping in

The Olympic Hot Springs Road follows the Elwah River.

Elwah River

 The hot springs are up the mountain and are a draw for many people. We  didn’t realize however that along this road there’s the old dam site for the Glines Canyon Dam, which is an overlook now.

Elwah Dam
Looking down off the dam to the river

There’s another lookout on a remainder of the dam on the other side of the river.  This gives a good visual on how much of the dam was removed.


Dam remains

The story of the building and removal of the dam is narrated on signs along the top of the dam site.

The reason for the removal of the dam was so the salmon could again run up the river as they had done for centuries until man blocked the waterway.  I liked this quote by an older Klallam Tribe member.

“Our Creator gave us the fish to live on.  I may not see the abundance of fish come back in my lifetime, but I would like to see it come back for my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, and the rest of my people.”

Bea Charles, Klallam Elder 1919-2009

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The valley where the man-made lake was is slowly going back to its natural state, but native plants are being planted to help the process.

The land is slowly recovering

There were actually two dams on the Elwah River, the Elwah Dam and Glines Canyon Dam.  Both have been removed.  The Glines Canyon Dam began in 1925 and was completed in 1927.  The dams made Port Angeles a booming logging town.  Port Angeles had a deep water port.  The power provided by the dams supported lumber mills and factories and the port provided a way for the lumber and goods to be transported to other parts of the world.

But times change and by the late 1900’s many people saw the benefit of returning this river to its natural state.  This literally took an act of Congress to be enacted.  The removal began in 2011.  An excavator on a barge notched the dam and the water began to flow out of the top of the dam.  The barge continued notching the dam until the canyon became too narrow for the barge.  It was removed and explosives finished the job. It took 15 tons of explosives in all and 12,000 cubic yards of concrete were removed.

Within a month the salmon returned to fight their way back up the Elwah River.

Elway River Rapids

Further down river, very close to the campground where we stayed, the Elwah Dam was removed.  This site has no dramatic overlook but you can hike out to the hill overlooking the old dam and there are some faded photos showing the excavation and freeing of the river here. I was able to photograph this picture of the power station before it was removed.

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Elwah Dam Power Station

Here’s how the valley looks now.

Looking down on the area that was once the Elwah Dam

I think it might be interesting to talk to older people who grew up in and near Port Angeles before the dam removal.  I’m sure this was a hot topic for years before Congress made the decision to restore the river to its natural state.  Jobs must have been lost.  Lives must have been changed.

The salmon return home now, as they always did before man intervened. Our national parks are about preserving nature so that generations to come can experience unspoiled wilderness.  The Elwah runs free through Olympic National Park again.  Man took away, man restored.  That happens so rarely in this world that it was a moving experience for us to visit these dam sites.

I took this photo of an information sign showing a picture of the Glines Dam before its removal, superimposed on the back drop of the scarred valley where the river now flows freely.  An interesting Before and After photo that I didn’t notice until looking through my pictures for this journal page.

Changed landscape