The Elwha River flows generally north for 45 miles (72 km) from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington. Most of the river’s course is within Olympic National Park. The river source is the Elwha Snowfinger, a perennial snowfield located near Dodwell Rixon Pass, at an elevation of 4,763 feet (1,452 m), separating the watersheds of the Elwha and Queets rivers. This snowfield is created by nearly continuous winter and spring avalanches.
The Elwha is one of several rivers in the Pacific Northwest that supports all five species of Pacific salmon (Chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink), plus four anadromous trout species (steelhead, coastal cutthroat, bull trout, and Dolly Varden char). From 1911 to 2014, two dams blocked fish passage on the Elwha River. Before the dams were built in 1911, approximately 400,000 adult salmon returned annually to spawn in 70 miles (110 km) of river habitat. By 2014, fewer than 4,000 salmon returned each year in only 4.9 miles (7.9 km) of remaining spawning habitat. The National Park Service removed the two dams as part of the $325 million Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project. Removal of the Elwha Dam began in September 2011 and was finished in spring 2012, and removal of the Glines Canyon Dam was completed on August 26, 2014. The resulting sediment release created 70 acres (28 ha) of estuary habitat at the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
While the dams had a major impact on the Elwha River, the health of the lower floodplain has been significantly degraded by other human activities. Restoration activities also include removing abandoned dikes and constructing engineered logjams that will allow the river to form side channels and reconnect to its floodplain. The lower floodplain is also being reforested with native species and eradicating exotic plants. Additional actions have been identified in the middle and lower portions of the river as well as in the estuary and nearshore habitat that will further speed complete watershed recovery. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Elwha River here: