PORT ANGELES, Wash. – A few hundred people and several dozen Chinook salmon gathered near the Elwha Dam on Saturday to witness the beginning of the process to set the Elwha River free and restore five species of Pacific salmon to more than 70 miles of river and stream.
An emotional ceremony was marked by references to the spiritual and cultural importance to the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe of the removal of two dams from the Elwha River near Port Angeles.
The ceremony included drumming, singing, dancing and a blessing by tribal elder Ben Charles Sr., who made several references to tribal ancestors looking down from the clouds and witnessing the event.
The ceremony concluded with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar leading a call, echoed by whoops from the crowd, to have a large piece of earthmoving equipment with a golden bucket break up a piece of concrete just upstream of the dam and carry some pieces to the bank where dignitaries were waiting.
“America’s rivers are the lifeblood of America’s economy – from the water for farms that produce our food to the fish and wildlife that sustain our heritage,” Salazar said.
The $325 million project is expected to last three years and eventually restore the Olympic Peninsula river to its wild state and restore salmon runs.
Before two towering concrete dams were built nearly a century ago, the river teemed with salmon but the structures blocked the fishes’ access to upstream habitat, diminished their runs and altered the ecosystem.
An excavator began chipping away at the top of Glines Canyon Dam on Thursday. Removal of that 210-foot-tall dam and the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam is part of the second-largest ecosystem restoration project ever undertaken by the National Park Service, after the Everglades.
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