Wednesday, July 25, 2007

With a Boom! Marmot Dam Removal Begins

Yesterday was a great day for rivers--we witnessed the beginning of the end for Marmot Dam on the Sandy River just 40 miles from downtown Portland. While the dam and powerplant originally provided electricity for the trolley system in Portland, it had lived its useful life. Later this year fish and paddlers will have access to a restored river.

While the river runs at low summer flows it is diverted around the dam site. This is the view just before demolition began. Photo by Thomas O'Keefe.

I came down from Seattle for the show and brought along Rebecca Sherman, former coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition; Rich Bowers, former Executive Director of American Whitewater and our new coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition; Sam Drevo from eNRG Kayaking, and Matty Moreland, a local American Whitewater volunteer who lives near the Sandy River. A few more paddlers found their way to the show including Nick Jacobs from Alder Creek, Ben Liotta from eNRG kayaking, Dave Hoffman from eNRG kayaking, and Ferdinand Steinvorth, manufacturer of Blue Pool Paddles, from Costa Rica. It was great to see all the paddlers out who managed to pull the appropriate strings for a seat at the invitation-only event. All our friends from the Hydropower Reform Coalition who worked on this project were out too including folks from American Rivers, Oregon Trout, Trout Unlimited, and WateWatch of Oregon. It seemed every other group who does river advocacy work was there too along with many of our agency partners.

As we arrived, PGE staff led tours of the dam site. One of the most striking images of the day was the Chinook salmon leaping into the air at the base of the dam. It was clear that paddlers weren't the only ones waiting in anticipation for a dam-free river.

Photo by Steven Nehl/The Oregonian. A salmon jumps at the falls where the Sandy River was diverted around Marmot Dam.

After short remarks by Portland General Electric CEO Peggy Fowler, she waited for the "all clear" and then pushed the plunger to detonate the charge that blasted off the top few feet of the dam.

From 1000' away Peggy Fowler pushes the plunger that sets off the explosive charge. Photo by Deston Nokes (see the video)

With a loud boom, dam removal was officially underway. Photo by Deston Nokes.

Cheers went up and the champagne came out--enough for a quick round before security confiscated the bottle--and then we all hustled up to witness the carnage. Within a few moments a line of trackhoes moved into position and began scooping up the rubble and loading it into a truck.

The heavy equipment moved into position and began scooping up the rubble. Over the next few weeks the material will be removed and by fall we will have a chance to experience a free-flowing river. Photo by Thomas O'Keefe.

Paddlers owe a debt of gratitude to Keith Jensen who as former owner of Alder Creek and American Whitewater Regional Coordinator, represented paddling interest throughout the negotiations on this project. We also need to thank PGE, a utility that understands that rivers are a public resource and came to a decision that balances our need for power with the values that free-flowing rivers provide.

Our next project will be to work with the Bureau of Land Management on developing a vision for the future of the Sandy River that preserves the resource value of lands along the river while providing opportunities for river-based recreation.

For more information, links to web pages for all the stakeholders, and to follow the progress of Marmot Dam removal check out

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Paddling the Salish Sea

Salish Sea is the aboriginal name for the inland waters from Puget Sound to Johnstone Strait, a great inland waterway that includes Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Since the retreat of the glaciers approximately 10,000 years ago native people have used the waters of the Salish Sea as the regional transportation network. I spend much of my time on the rivers that drain into the Salish Sea but every once in a while it's good to get out and explore the marine waters where all these rivers come together. Paddling is a means of reconnecting with our historical, cultural, and spiritual relationship to the waters that have nourished the body and soul of the people who called this place home for centuries. The Salish people mastered the art of efficient travel on the great inland sea through ocean-going canoes that were used for centuries.

Looking down on the Salish Sea (NASA image).

Actually getting out in one of these canoes can be a challenge as they are not easy to rent or borrow and you need to get a crew together who wants to paddle one. Two years ago my friend Omar sent an email to a group of us that went something like this:

I have been doing some thinking and have the start of a vision that I would like your help shaping. I have often pondered what it would be like to go on a group trip with everyone in one craft, working as a team. It should allow good opportunity for discussions, problem solving, and teamwork. I think I have found the craft for this trip--a Northern Dancer Canoe designed for groups of 5-10 paddlers in the tradition of a native dugout canoe. The canoe does not come with paddles, as each tribal member has a personal paddle that does not get rented. In the spirit of the trip, we will each make our own cedar northwest coast paddle.

The "pullers" (paddlers) on the 2007 trip.

With the seed planted, Omar began to organize the trip. After calling Clipper Canoes, makers of the Northern Dancer, Omar tracked down different tribes who had purchased the boat over the past few years. Several of us went out to the Olympic Peninsula where we met with Benny from the Squaxin Island Tribe. Benny took us out one morning and shared his paddling knowledge--we were hooked and we immediately set about the task of finding wood for our paddles. Through the spring of 2005 we searched the beaches on different trips for yellow or red cedar and soon everyone had ripped a board from a piece of driftwood. Ed took a course from noted carver Ray Arcand and after a few more trips to museums and conversations with experts we were on our way.

I missed the first trip in June 2005 as I was off in Alaska doing field work but I had started my paddle and in 2007 everyone decided it was time to do another trip. Actually getting a boat to use had been tricky. While a few tribes offer guided trips it's another matter to get one of the boats for your own journey. After many phone calls and long discussions, Omar tracked down
Aaron Reith with Takaya Adventures. Aaron helped us make special arrangements for a canoe in 2005 and after moving to Tseycum Canoe Tours, Aaron once again helped us get boats for our trip out of Sidney in 2007. As we launched he made a point of saying that we had special permission to take the boats out on our own and we felt honored to have the respect of the tribe and the privilege to experience this way of traveling the inland sea.

We prepare to head out from the beach adjacent to the ferry terminal as one of the tribal members comes to send us on our way with a song.

Out on the water. Ed guides one of our canoes.

Our second canoe guided by Web.

On our journey we shared knowledge of carving techniques and soon after setting camp a couple guys found a nice cedar log that was quickly split into boards.

Ed eyes up one of the cedar boards determining what sort of paddle might emerge. The board itself guides the carving process as you scan the grain.

Web goes to work a new paddle after a group consultation. The next series of photos show the development of the paddle over the course of the weekend.

The paddle starts to take on a basic shape with a hatchet that we use to rough out the basic form.
A draw knife can then be used to start shaping the paddle.

More work with the draw knife as you can start to recognize the clear form of the paddle.

More detailed blade shaping with a crooked knife.

As some worked on paddles others took the scraps to work on spoons, spatulas, and a gaff hook handle. Others just read or relaxed.

A break from the carving--hanging out for a meal together.

Mark carving as the sun sets.

Lyle guides a group out around the island at sunset.

It was a great trip and a real joy to work together as team to experience the Salish Sea as it was traveled for centuries. I'm sure we will all be back out on the water sometime soon and a big thanks to the people of the Tseycum First Nation for sharing their boat with us for the weekend and making our trip possible.