For just over four years now, the Elwha River has run free.
Today the river drains, uninterrupted, from a snowfield in the mountains of Washington’s Olympic National Park to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Pacific Ocean. But for about a century before, this course of 45 miles was blocked by two dams, the 105-foot-tall Elwha Dam and 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam. The impenetrable barriers prevented salmon from migrating, devastating their populations as well as the human and ecological communities that depended on them.
The dams’ removal, intended to reverse those problems, was decades in the making and the result of advocacy led by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and conservation groups, along with years of political wrangling and scientific studies. The removal process itself began with the first blast to the Elwha Dam in September 2011 and ended when the last of Glines Canyon Dam was gone three years later.
With the dams no longer an obstruction, nature didn’t waste any time.