By Josh Huffman
Since the Lower Lower White Salmon River opened this Fall, I have had several special and unique opportunities to boat this newly opened section of river. The trips took place for a variety of reasons and objectives, and they have given me a great chance to see the new stretch from a few different perspectives.
Some of the trips involved taking Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife down the river to facilitate their monitoring of spawning salmon and trout. These fish have been able to swim up and into this watershed again for the first time in over a hundred years after Condit Dam came down this past year. On these trips I learned how to spot reds (the area where fish excavate gravel to lay their eggs) as well as the zones where those can typically be found. We saw an abundance of live fish darting through the water, which was super exciting to see. Whenever the carcass of a spawned out fish was spotted we would pull over so measurements could be taken. Near some of the carcasses, bear tracks were clearly visible. I wouldn’t have seen these if we were just moving quickly downriver. The White Salmon has always been such a beautiful river, but now its so cool to see the watershed truly come to life!
Another trip involved taking the Channel 8 / KGW news crew through the newly opened stretch, during the first week after the much anticipated opening of the river. As the decommissioning of Condit Dam has been a big news item for so many years, especially this year, of course we stopped at the former dam site so they could document and share with the public that its really gone!
Of course during the same week, a spontaneously formed celebration float had to take place! On Sunday November 11, many local kayakers and members of various stakeholder groups involved in the removal of Condit Dam (American River, American Whitewater, Friends of the White Salmon River, Friends of the Columbia River, OPB, River Network, Yakama Fisheries, Mid-Columbia Fisheries) gathered for a trip down the Lower Lower to see and experience the free flowing river for the first time. It was very cool to guide a raft during this special float, where emotions were flowing as free as the river. Amelia, a reporter from OPB, was on my boat and throughout the trip she was audio recording the experience. The others on my boat were explaining what the dam removal meant and some of the changes which had taken place. It was so interesting to hear their take on things! Seeing everyone’s excitement while boating through the former dam site was an awesome and moving experience.
As a raft guide and local boater, I am very excited and happy the dam is gone. With a newly opened stretch of river for recreation in our own back yard, I look forward to next season, and working with Wet Planet on including it into our rafting trips. It’s amazing to think that now we are able to boat all the way from Trout Lake to the mouth and then into the Columbia River! This additional section of river truly puts the White Salmon River above and beyond any river in the Pacific Northwest!