By Susan Hollingsworth

Taking out a hydropower project on a river that already hosts upwards of 25,000 whitewater kayakers and rafters per year is a big deal.New signage for Northwestern Lake, post Condit Dam removal

Conversations about the new stretch of river, hidden below Northwestern Lake since 1913, can be heard in pubs throughout the Columbia River Gorge. However, concerns are also arising as to the limited river access during the most popular months of the year.

Let’s clear up some of the confusion.

First of all, we should remind ourselves that this confusion and difficulty is short lived. Soon, the White Salmon River will be free-flowing all the way to the Columbia and we will barely be able to recall the time when we had to change our recreation plans to make that happen.

That being said, this summer on the White Salmon will require a bit more understanding and flexibility from the river recreation community.

The biggest concern is the closure of the Lower White Salmon River (Husum to Northwestern lake) beginning in just a few weeks.

Construction begins in June to prep for the dramatic draining of Condit Dam in October. First, they must stabilize the pillars of the bridge that crosses Northwestern Lake. To do this, they must close ALL RIVER TRAFFIC below the bridge.

Imagine large chunks of concrete falling, a pier extending across the river, workers hanging at river level drilling into the structure and nets spanning the entire river. I wouldn’t want to float near that either.

Therefore, the Lower White Salmon take-out will be closed starting in June, 2011, lasting through the full deconstruction of the dam in October. All river traffic must take-out at the public access point in Husum.  

UPDATE: For clarification, the actual river will not be closed.  However, boaters will not be allowed to float beneath the bridge, and therefore take-out at NW Lake.  The Forest Service is working with us to find an alternate take-out site upstream of the cabins, but nothing is set in stone yet.  Also, if you have personal agreements with cabin owners, you may take-out with them.  Please do not try to take-out without prior permission from a landowner!

For painfully detailed plans for the bridge stabilization, take a look at the contractor’s report.

Keep an eye out for new signage at river access points upstream informing river users of temporary changes.

This stretch of river, a class II-III whitewater adventure, is often the first stretch of the White Salmon a beginning kayaker experiences. Rapids like Rattlesnake and Dead Man’s Curve offer challenging maneuvers, as well as easy-outs for newer boaters. As the river flows into Northwestern Lake, it grows calmer, offering travelers a peaceful and scenic float.

However, the scenic tranquility of Northwestern Lake is not nature’s doing. After the removal of Condit Dam, the river will return along with it’s true scenic qualities (including endangered fish passage and revegetated river banks).

Another side-effect of the process will be the limited access to Northwestern Lake Park.

Starting in June, the public park will transform into a staging area for construction. When the project nears its climax stage (the October draining) the Lake will be forever closed in addition to the section of river directly upstream.

For more information on the future of the park, as well as see the original drafts of the images within this blog post, see PacifiCorp’s Recreation Facility Removal and Improvements Plan.

Proposed plans for Northwestern Lake Park on the White Salmon River during the dam deconstruction process

Plans for Northwestern Lake access during the deconstruction phase post-draining.  Image source.

Proposed Plan for Northwestern Lake on the White Salmon River post-dam removal

Plans for Northwestern Lake after deconstruction is complete.  Image source.

What other options do outdoor enthusiasts have?

Rafters and kayakers looking for entry-level whitewater can head over to the Klickitat River, just 25 minutes from Husum, Washington. The stretches of river just above Lyle Gorge offer whitewater with comparable difficulty. Wet Planet uses various stretches of this river for our kayak courses, as the combination of pools, rapids and sunshine make for nearly perfect days on the water every time.

Buck Creek Trail system scenery

Afternoon picnics need only be taken another mile passed Northwestern Lake to Buck Creek Trail access points. While tables are fewer, the bubbling creek and minimal crowds create a mesmerizing setting for a relaxing day outdoors.

For those wanting to feel the tranquility and peace of a lake, head west along Rt 14 to Rowland Lake. Plenty of parking and warmer water make this spot a favorite for many locals in the area.

Mostly, we must remember to be patient. The White Salmon River will soon be restored to its original character. Held back from it’s true potential for nearly 100 years, the river will soon open its doors to a host of new plants, animals and recreation opportunities we may have never even imagined.

Susan Hollingsworth, writer and instructor, will help give a voice to the private boating community during the deconstruction process, as well as Wet Planet Whitewater.  Feel free to send her your comments, questions and concerns regarding the project.