The White Salmon River became the fertile soil where my tumbleweed roots began to take hold. I knew it before I arrived. My roots wanted a community, an extraordinary geographic location, a purpose. Or, perhaps I wanted these things and my roots finally allowed me to accrue them.
I use the word “roots” here very lightly. The ground I embedded myself into near the White Salmon River led me to an idea, a project, that would ground me in river communities across the country. Here, my wild river life began.
Adam and I were picking our home. We had met a year earlier near the Yangtzee River. The figurative map lay on the kitchen counter, great whitewater towns circled in red. The Pacific Northwest won after a strong match with western North Carolina. While I itched for a new purpose and direction, I happily lined up a job with a rafting company for my first summer. Instructing, guiding, and camping in the woods, after all, combine to form a very definite form of bliss. I didn’t know that the rafting company would usher me to explore my creativity through writing, adopt my home river, determine my next life chapter, and take root.
Wet Planet Whitewater in Husum, WA operates trips on a handful of designated Wild & Scenic Rivers. And I didn’t even know what that meant. So I researched the label and what those words do for a river system. I’m not going to explain that here, but I summarized it in a series of blogs you can read. The bottom line is that I learned how under-protected our free-flowing rivers are in the U.S. Yet, the movement of water down a hillside, into a river system and out to the ocean holds astounding economic benefit for our communities. Economic benefit that we couldn’t recreate with our machines, our innovations, our current knowledge.
I kept researching. Wet Planet’s ‘Eddy Line’ blog allowed me to read and write more about the White Salmon River, particularly the decommission and removal of Condit Dam – the second largest dam removal in our nation’s history. And just upstream, yup, a Wild & Scenic designation. What does that mean for the newly restored section that lay under a reservoir for so long? How do the local residents, Native Americans, businesses and recreationists see and experience the river? I was inquisitive, to say the least.
Amidst the buzz of dam removal and the evolution of my personal path toward a graduate degree in river restoration science and engineering, I learned that the first Wild & Scenic Rivers were designated nearly 50 years ago in 1968. An anniversary. A reason to celebrate. A reason to explore further.
“Imagine what other Wild & Scenic Rivers are like around the country. Those communities. The people who love them. The ecosystems they feed and protect.” The idea stuck immediately.
Like most good, big ideas, the actual manifestation could take many forms. For us, the seed planted and the number 50 became a list of rivers. Our thoughts of living more simply somehow led us to a small RV that was affordable and worked well. And so the road trip began to take shape.
For the next 2 years we will embody the Wild River Life. Committed to visiting and paddling 50 Wild & Scenic Rivers creates a distinct goal. But the meat, the gusto, the sweet spot of the trip will be everything that surrounds those river trips. We’ll discover how Wild & Scenic designations support different communities. We’ll meet people who know the rivers like a beloved partner. We’ll help get more people out on the rivers who have yet to feel the freedom of floating. We’ll do things we can’t even imagine.
The bottom line is that we are doing it. And we couldn’t have done it without the White Salmon River and our river family at Wet Planet.
Don’t forget to get your tickets to Wild Rivers Night, an annual celebration of our rivers at Patagonia’s Portland store on February 15th, 2017.
Author Susan Elliott, co founder of Wild Rivers Life, can still be found using Wet Planet as a home base with her trusty side kicks, Adam and Wallace.