PORT ANGELES — The last segment of a fish-blocking dam came down four years ago, but Elwha River restoration work continues.
Whale Scout volunteers and Northwest Indian College students — most from the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes — planted 800 native plants on the east side of the mouth of the Elwha River on Jan. 27.
The planting was hosted by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe on newly created beach formed when decades of sediment were released after the removal of two Elwha River dams in a $324 million project.
The fish-blocking dams were removed between 2011 and 2014. The silt that has flowed down the river has created some 80 to 100 acres of new beach at the mouth of the Elwha River west of Port Angeles.
Most of the beach is on the east side of the mouth, according to Laurel Moulton, a horticulturist hired by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe who has worked for the last 3½ years as the assistant manager of Olympic National Park’s Matt Albright Native Plant Center.
Tribal lands on the east side of the mouth are not open to the public. The only present public access to the new beach at the mouth of the river is on the west bank, which is across private property and where parking and public services are very limited.
Catherine Youngman, who grew up on Lower Elwha Reservation, remembered the degraded beach prior to dam removal.
“Before the dams were removed, I remember my cousins and I would always walk down to the beach and just walk along the rocks to hang out and get out of the house,” said the Northwest Indian College student, who expects to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in native environmental science.
“We would have a throwing contest of who can throw the furthest because there was an enormous amount of rocks,” she said. “The beach wasn’t very big either so we couldn’t walk very far.
“Now it’s huge!” she exclaimed.
She described her experience with the Whale Scouts as “amazing.”
“I met new people and being able to give back to the tribe’s newly created beach with native plants is special.”
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