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As Life Rebounds, Rangers Offer Tour Of Elwha's Once-Underwater Landscapes

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National Park Service
"Oregon Sunshine blooms in former Lake Aldwell."

With crews working to remove the last of the second dam on the Elwha River, Olympia National Park officials are inviting the public to take a guided tour of land that sat underwater just two years ago.

Lake Aldwell disappeared after the removal of the Elwha Dam, revealing “a fascinating, up-close look at shifting sediments, both old and new vegetation, giant stumps logged a century ago, and the river re-establishing itself,” according to the National Park Service.

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Credit National Park Service
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National Park Service
"Back at work at Glines Canyon Dam."

All that’s left now of the two dams that harnessed the Elwha River for more than a hundred years is a small piece of the Glines Canyon Dam — a 30-foot stub that sits beneath the waterline. Crews have been drilling into the piece to install explosives and remove it safely.

“And they’re hoping to do the final blast by the end of this month,” said Rainey McKenna, public information officer with Olympic National Park.

After the dam wall is gone, McKenna says, the site will be cleared of rubble. All work should be finished by this fall and eventually visitors will be able to peer down into Glines Canyon from balustrades. The whole process might take a year or more to finish, but McKenna says with the ecosystem restoration in full effect, there are already many other things to see.

“If you have not been to the Olympic National Park in the last two years, the changes to Elwha Valley are dramatic and very exciting,” McKenna said. “Particularly as vegetation is restored and re-established, and salmon are returning to the river, we’re seeing birds, otters, bears, ungulates and other animals that are returning to this once water-covered landscape.”

In addition to joining interpretive walks, she says park visitors can look at the narrow canyon where the Elwha Dam used to be. That dam has been gone since March 2012 and the former dam site is fully accessible to the public. 

The free ranger-guided walks, which begin at the former boat launch at the end of Lake Aldwell Road, are are offered on Tuesdays and Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. through Sept. 2.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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