Maggie: So, yeah! This is kind of awesome!
All of that awesome is nestled into 1500 square miles in the northwest corner of Washington State. Olympic National Park is famous for its spectacular landscapes: the jagged, often snow-covered mountains, the misty pine forests and its clear, sparkling beaches.
In fact, you have probably already seen the sights of Olympic, and not even known it. In The Twilight Series movies, Jacob and the other werewolves hung out on Washington’s rugged pacific coastline beaches. Edward! And Olympic’s hazy temperate rain forest provides the perfect cover for light-shy Edward.
The Hoh Rain Forest gets about 12-feet of rainfall every single year. A little perspective? That is about seven times as much as San Francisco.
All that rain and snowmelt from the mountains can create some pretty powerful rivers, like the Elwha River, where it is all about the whitewater. Rapids like these are rated on a scale of I to VI based on difficulty. This one was a class II, but seemed pretty big to me.
Rafting is one of the many attractions at Olympic, but this river used to be a lot bigger.
Back in 1913, before Olympic was designated as a national park, early settlers built the first of two dams along the Elwha River. These dams harnessed the power of the river, created a lake, and generated electricity for nearby towns. But the dams also disrupted the natural ecosystems within the park, the various communities of living things, like plants and animals.
Barb Maynes: For the last hundred years or so, we’ve gotten down to about only 3,000 salmon in this river.
Maggie: The dams prevented salmon from reaching 90% of their habitats within the park. And that effects all the other wildlife in the park. Without salmon, the bears, bald eagles and foxes all but disappeared from the area. That is why the Park Service is now taking some major steps to bring them back.
Right now, we are standing on what remains of one of the two dams that are being removed here in Olympic National Park. And crews have been working for over a year to help return this site to its natural ecosystem.
The removal of the two dams, known as the Elwha River Restoration project, is the largest dam removal in United States history. Removing the dams will open up 800 acres that are currently underwater and help restore salmon habitats downstream.
Barb: As these dams disappear, there is really nothing else that is wrong with this ecosystem – nothing else that is in the way of salmon. So, maybe ten, twenty years of regeneration, we’re looking at going from 3,000 salmon all the way back up to 400,000.
Maggie: And as the five species of salmon return to Olympic National Park, so will the animals that need the fish to survive. But that is not the only benefit to the dam removal project. Remember those rapids?
Park Staff Member: It’s going to open up a lot bigger whitewater for us, to where we’re running, kind of, class II, II+ right now, to where we could possible get some class III, IV whitewater and be exciting.
Maggie: As it turns out, the restoration project is restoring Olympic’s ecosystems, and giving everyone a little extra adventure.
Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.
- What effect did the dams along the Elwha River have on the ecosystem of Olympic National Park?
- Why has the Park Service decided to remove the two dams?
- How will the removal of the dams affect the park?