Glines Canyon Dam
The Glines Canyon Dam before its removal (photo: Ben Knight, DamNation).

Last week, two National Park Service staff members went snorkeling in the Elwha River upstream of the site where the now fully removed Glines Canyon Dam once stood. The purpose of their outing was to confirm the possible sighting of chinook salmon in the Upper Elwha, in the area that was not too long ago home to Lake Mills and where chinook salmon have not swam in 102 years.

The snorkel surveyors found three adult chinook, all between 30 and 36 inches long, between Windy Arm and Glines Canyon. According to the National Park Service, "two fish were seen resting near submerged stumps of ancient trees [while] the third was found in a deep pool in the former Lake Mills."

"When dam removal began three years ago, Chinook salmon were blocked far downstream by the Elwha Dam," said Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum. "Today, we celebrate the return of Chinook to the upper Elwha River for the first time in over a century."

Glines Canyon remnants photo survey
A member of the Olympic National Park fisheries team snorkels just above the remnants of Glines Canyon Dam (photo: NPS).

"Thanks to the persistence and hard work of many National Park Service employees, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and many other partners, salmon can once again reach the pristine Elwha watershed within Olympic National Park," said Creachbaum.

The return of the salmon is more good news and good press for the Elwha River and its thus far wildly successful dam removal projects which, thanks to the award-winning film DamNation and other journalistic and activist efforts, have become the figurehead of the growing movement for dam removal across the United States. The Elwha River dam removal project is the largest of its kind in history.

According to Olympic National Park staff, biologists returned to the Elwha's waters the following day where they counted 432 live Chinook in a 1.75 mile section of river just downstream of Glines Canyon, yet still above the old Elwha dam site.