Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog

One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.

September 16, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Present at history at Glines Canyon Dam

Posted by Lynda V. Mapes

Quick: who would you guess was the first one Thursday to witness the start of the biggest dam removal ever in the U.S.?

1) Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
2) Secretary of the Interior
3) U.S. Sen. Patty Murray
4) US Sen. Maria Cantwell
5) U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks
6) The Director of the National Park Service
7) A retired accountant from Seattle

If you guessed seven, you read my story today in The Seattle Times. All of the above dignitaries are expected to turn out for an invitation-only ceremony Saturday at Elwha Dam celebrating the start of dam removal, it was Joe Karr, 69, a retired Seattle accountant now living in Port Ludlow who got up early, drove an hour and a half, and hiked more than a mile to sit himself down on a stump and watch the first chunks of concrete fly a few miles upriver at Glines Canyon.

"I was kind of surprised to see I was the only one here," said Karr Thursday morning, where I found him on the banks of Lake Mills as I arrived with a retinue of other reporters, escorted by a public information officer from the National Park Service. Heaven forbid we would just walk on up the road and down the banks to pull up a stump and watch, as Karr did.

A Port Angeles native, he grew up hiking in the Elwha, starting with trips his dad took him on all the way up to Elkhorn, up about 12 miles into the wilderness valley, when he was not yet 10. The magic of the place has stuck with him ever since. And even though the doesn't fish, the Elwha is important to him.

That citizen passion is a big part of what made Elwha dam removal happen. It was people like Polly Dyer of Seattle, the wilderness activist, insisting "We have to get the concrete out of the park!" that made the dams come down. Rick Rutz, an obscure activist with the Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society, and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe also were among the first who got it all started, and they just never gave up.

Oddly, some of those with it longest weren't among the 400 guests slated to be at the ceremony Saturday.

"I was offended at first," said Karr, who like many, regards the Elwha as his, as much as anyone's. Not to mention that it is the general public that's paying for the $325 million dam removal project. But mostly, Karr said, he's just glad to see dam removal happening.

Walking down the trail toward Glines Canyon Thursday morning, the sound of the hydraulic hammer smashing the concrete could be heard for miles. The first to usually be offended by man-made racket of any kind in our national park at Olympic, I gotta say, I didn't mind one bit.

joe karr.jpg
Joe Karr witnessed history in the making Thursday morning. He had a ringside seat on a tree stump.
Lynda Mapes photo

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