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Rowing source to the sea on the contested Klamath River

In an era of increasing dam removals across the country Restoration of rivers To their natural habitat – more than 1,000 so far – it is often difficult to get a true before-and-after picture of how these concrete barriers changed the river’s environment. Three stand-up paddleboard racers recently went out of their way – away – in a multi-year effort to find out.

In early May, adventurers Spencer Lacey, Lance Ostrom and Dre Wybachinsky as the first team headed to SUP—supporting the trip with a 10-foot raft—from source to sea below 234 miles of Oregon and California’s Klamath River, hampered by four levees, all set to be removed in the few years coming. Their goal: to date the river in its current state of dams, then go back in a few years to do it again once they’ve all been removed to see the difference firsthand.

Klamath pool

“We wanted to make an environmental statement on this trip,” says Lacey, who sponsors Badfish SUP And it has several SUP drops first to his creditBut nothing is as calorie depleted as this. As of 2023, the department’s four levees are scheduled to be removed in the largest dam removal project in history. One day not so long ago, we will be able to do the same stretch again when the levees are gone and we see the river gorge as it begins to return to its normal state.”

Rowingers saw something similar recently when two dams fell on the Elwa River in Washington, MA في New York times It has been called “one of the most promising and purest acts of environmental restoration that the region and the nation have ever seen”. With the removal of the lower 108-foot Elwha Dam and the upper 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam, the river is now free-flowing for the first time in a century. Built in the early 1900s, prior to the establishment of the Olympic National Park, the two hydroelectric dams have long served as barriers to salmon and other fish as well as whitewater recreation. Now it is run free from the wilderness backwaters of the Grand Canyon in Eloa all the way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Port Angeles, Washington.

Built in 1903 and owned by Pacificcorp, the 125-foot Condit Dam on Washington’s White Salmon River was also demolished in 2012, opening the bottom white salmon to more than 40,000 rowers who use the waterway each year. It was the second longest dam removed in the country, and a milestone for paddlers. “At the time, the Condit removal was the first major removal of a dam on a river as popular as whitewater salmon,” says Thomas O’Keefe, director of stewardship for the Pacific Northwest at US Whitewater.

Klamath Sup
Courtesy Spencer Lacey

The Klamath River is perhaps more famous, and with the removal of four of its dams, its spread will increase. In November 2020, the Karouk and York tribes, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Klamath River Renewal Corporation and Pacificcorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, announced an agreement pushing for the removal of their four dams. This effort took decades of effort by the tribes, the American Conservation Organization of American Rivers, and other partners.

Klamath River
Courtesy Spencer Lacey

The revised timeline calls for removal of the dam to begin in 2023, provided that the Federal Environmental Management Council (FERC) approves the license transfer and decommissioning. Once removed, the dams will open new possibilities for paddling (and fish migration) within the 44 miles of the 234-mile waterway that stretches from the Cascades Range to the Pacific Ocean. You’ll create classic new sections of paddle-water for river runners, alongside such existing whitewater sections as Class III-IV Ward’s Canyon. Bill Cross says, “When the dams come out, boaters will be able to explore a range of new day trips and put together a wonderful multi-day excursion. The restored Upper Klamath will be one of the greatest whitewater rivers in the West.”

Klamath pool
Spencer Lacey

What is good for floats is good for fish. In a story for processing oarAnd the Tyler Williams, who drew in the Klamath River from source to sea in 2009, wrote: “When the Iron Gate and other dams are gone, wild salmon will swim, perhaps pausing, before slithering over once dried up rocks to find nearly-forgotten breeding sites.”

Across Lacy, Ostrom, and Wybaczynsky’s eight-day trek, a trek of agony as scenic as it was, the trio encountered “some roaring white water, easy ripples, four dams and about 15 miles of reservoirs.” Starting just below the Kino Dam, which was not to be removed, they paddled these reservoirs as far as possible, which necessitated a gigantic 13-mile haul. To do this, they hand-hauled their Hyside MiniMe booster pontoon in a makeshift mobile trailer that features a homemade axle and additional Burley wheels.

Klamath bobsled SUP
Spencer Lacey

“Those payloads were definitely the hardest part, especially the first five-mile part,” Ostrom says. “I’ve never gotten my arm around in my life from pulling that trailer. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you have five miles to go and only being able to go a few hundred yards before you need a break.”

Camping in Klamath
speaker lacey

However, they persevered, enduring the hardships of transporting gear to reap the beauty of the region as a reward. “It was a lot of paddling and long, long days,” Lacey says. “But there was great views, wildlife and camping. Fortunately, we kind of love huge days on the river, totally achy and totally sandbags.”

pulls around the dam
Courtesy Spencer Lacey

Eight days later, they set out exhausted at an estuary near Klamath, California, in what Ostrom described as the best part of the trip. “It was one of the most gruesome scenes ever,” he says. “More than 100 sea lions were swimming around fishing for salmon and rattling their teeth in a seven-foot swell. There was also a massive rip current and a whale off shore. It was one of those ‘don’t fuck with Mother Nature but that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen'” .”

Klamath team
Spencer Lacey

Once they were done, they couldn’t help but look back, loving the moment they would come back to document the lane changes.

“We can’t wait to go back and re-take the journey in a few years after the dams are gone and their environment begins to recover,” Lacey says. “It would be great to enjoy the same expanse in its new, free-flowing glory.”

Klamath Cruising

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Written by Joseph

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