Monday, August 18, 2008

Western River Tour

I spend a lot of time in meetings talking about rivers, thinking about how they should be managed, and negotiating agreements that balance the ecosystem services that our nation's waterways provide. It's always good to take some time to go out and see rivers, talk to people who live and work along them, spend time with river managers and business owners, fish and play on the water, and experience the diversity of rivers our country has to offer. With that in mind my son Aki and I set off on a 19 day journey to explore rivers. Here are a few of the places we went.

Day 1: We spent our first day on the road driving through the Columbia basin along the Yakima, Spokane, and Clark Fork Rivers. We made this stop at Post Falls where the Spokane River begins at the Washington/Idaho border at Coeur D'Alene (pictured above). The dam at the falls is part of the hydropower projects operated by Avista along the Spokane River that are currently being relicensed with the federal government.

Day 2: On our second day we crossed the continental divide and entered the Mississippi drainage. We drove along the Missouri River to Great Falls along the route that Lewis and Clark traveled (pictured above). We saw lots of people fishing and floating the river and made a stop at Great Falls. The falls are altered by a series of dams and reservoirs. We had made arrangements in Fort Benton for a canoe to take us down the Upper Missouri River and launched in the late afternoon.

Day 3: We emerged from our tent on the banks of the Missouri River and spent the whole day floating through the Missouri Breaks National Monument (pictured above). This is one of the few remaining sections of a free-flowing Missouri River that is completely undeveloped. We followed along with excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and watched the scenic tapestry unfold before us as in a George Bingham painting. (Read and See More of Our Trip)

Day 4: We finished our float on the Missouri River around lunch time and then set out east across Montana on Highway 200. A highlight for Aki was a small town we passed through in Garfield County where they had a cast of a complete fossilized Triceratops that was discovered on one of the nearby ranches. I think we will be back someday to do the dino trail. As we headed into North Dakota we crossed the Yellowstone River (pictured above). At 671 miles it is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 and the principal tributary for the Missouri River.

Day 5: We had pulled in late the evening before to Theodore Roosevelt National Park along the banks of the Little Missouri River (pictured above). We spent the morning exploring the countryside and scenic geology along the river. We then continued down the Missouri River stopping at the Mandan Village site where Sacagewea and Charbonneau joined the Lewis and Clark expedition. We continued along the river to Bismarck where we set out east along the interstate.

Day 6: After a few hours on the road we came into St. Paul and started exploring the Mississippi National River (pictured above). We spent some time along the river and then headed down to Hastings which is a significant site as the first formal proposal for a hydrokinetic project on the Mississippi River at Lock and Dam Number 2. Hydrokinetic projects generate power through current and the proposed project would be at the outlet of the lock

Day 7: We took a break from rivers but did splash around in Lake Wingra in Madison Wisconsin. Our friends Helge and Laurieann were married and that was the main activity for the day (pictured above). A couple dozen paddlers were present for the occasion and the reception turned into a planning session for future trips and expeditions.

Day 8: The Wisconsin River is one of the Midwest's great river trips (pictured above). I have done sections of the lower Wisconsin several times and it is simply one of the most outstanding canoe trips in the country. The river flows through Aldo Leopold country and several islands and beautiful sandy beaches make for great camping and picnic opportunities. Steve, Paul, and I all brought our kids along and our friend Megi joined in the fun as well. (Read and See More of Our Trip).

Day 9: I spent most of the day cleaning and repacking the car as we prepared for our trip home. We drove up to the Mecan River and Aki did spend some time splashing in the water with Harry and Jan's dog.

Day 10: I grew up trout fishing and it was great to introduce my son Aki to the sport for the first time (pictured above). The Mecan River is a classic trout stream in central Wisconsin and we were up early so Aki could catch our breakfast. We spent a day exploring this stream in the Fox River drainage (Read and See More of Our Trip).

Day 11: The Fox River was the industrial waterway that transported and processed the timber from Paul Bunyan's northwoods. With some of the oldest hydropower in the country the river continues to be a working waterway (pictured above). The Kaukauna Project is currently trying to negotiate a new license so they can rebuild their power plant and local paddlers contacted me expressing concerns over what this would mean for recreational opportunities on the river. I came out for a site visit with project operators, agency staff, and local stakeholders to learn more about the project and the issues at stake.

Day 12: We spent most of the day driving and finally found our way back at the Missouri River, although at a point further downstream than where we had been the week before. We traveled along the section of the river between Gavins Point Dam and Fort Randall Dam which is a beautiful section of the river (pictured above). We plan to come back someday to further explore this section by canoe.

Day 13: In a region where many of the rivers have been transformed by irrigation and dams, the Niobrara remains as one of the last free-flowing rivers of the Great Plains. It flows east across the northern half of Nebraska before it joins the Missouri River on the border with South Dakota. Aki and I spent a full day on the river paddling over 25 miles, exploring waterfalls, swimming in the river, and generally enjoying this wonderful river (Read and See More of Our Trip).

Day 14: After stopping in to meet with the folks at the National Park Service who manage the Niobrara Wild and Scenic River we continued across the state and followed the river to its headwaters. We stopped at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument where the river is just a narrow channel that passed through irrigated agricultural lands (pictured above).

Day 15: We crossed Wyoming and climbed over the pass into the Headwaters of the Snake River, a major tributary of the Columbia River that originates in Yellowstone National Park. We spent the day traveling through the Grand Teton National Park where the Snake flows along the base of the Teton Range (pictured above).

Day 16: We linked up with my friend Dave who is the Forest Service manager for the Snake River as it flows through Alpine Canyon downstream of Jackson, WY (pictured above). Dave and his wife took their young daughter and my son Aki down in a raft. I had an opportunity to kayak and we all had a great day on the water. Legislation is pending in Congress to designate the Snake and major tributaries under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (learn more about the Campaign for the Snake Headwaters). Time is running short to pass the legislation in this Congress but it has been packaged with a number of public river and land bills under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008 (S. 3213).

Day 17: From a river perspective Yellowstone is a pretty fascinating place. Rivers that include the Missouri, Snake, and Yellowstone all have their origin in the Park. We spent the day exploring the Yellowstone River, which we had crossed earlier in the trip closer to its mouth with the Missouri. The overlook at Artist's Point is one of my favorite places in any of our National Parks (pictured above). The place is significant because the dramatic view was captured by Thomas Moran in vivid paintings that were an instrumental component of Congressional testimony that led to the creation of our nation's first national park in 1872. Congress appropriated $10,000 for the purchase of Moran's painting, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which now hangs in the Renwick Museum just a couple blocks from the Whitehouse.

Day 18: We had plans to travel out along the Firehole River which is a major tributary of the Madison which then becomes the Missouri. The headwaters are well known for the famous geysers of Yellowstone and we were lucky enough to catch Beehive Geyser as we were passing through (pictured above). It is one of the most impressive geysers in the Park and we enjoyed a great show. We headed back to Missoula crossing over the divide into the Clark Fork drainage. Along the way we passed the massive restoration effort where Milltown Dam is being removed and the confluence of the Blackfoot with the Clark Fork is being restored (a Video from my colleague who filmed the restoration of flow to the river channel). I finished off the day with my friend Molly and a paddling trip through Alberton Gorge. Aki spent the evening learning to skip rocks with Kevin.

Day 19: Our last day on the road, Aki and I stopped in to meet with our friends from Save Our Wild Salmon and talked about recreational opportunities a restored Snake River might provide. Aki splashed about in the Spokane River and then we cruised across the state and were home in time for dinner.