Access to Glines Canyon Dam site likely by end of year

By the end of the year, the public should have full access to the site of the former Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River within Olympic National Park.

That was the tentative timeline offered Tuesday by park spokeswoman Barb Maynes during a visit to the work site.

In the meantime, visitors may walk to the location of the former Elwha Dam, whichalready has been razed.

Removal of the two structures – the largest such project in the United States – has been in process since September 2011. The $27 million demolition cost is part of a larger $325 million project, including a new Port Angeles water treatment plant.

Dam removalwill provide all five species of Pacific salmon and steelhead access to more than 70 miles of river habitat that had been blocked for more than 100 years. Salmon and other fish already make their way upstream of the Elwha Dam site.

Workers completed removal of the 100-foot Elwha Dam in March 2012. Gone are the power house and spillways; the site has been graded to make it look more natural.

Crews at Glines Canyon worked last week to drill 30-to-40 holes in the last 30 feet of the remaining concrete dam and inan apron below the dam. A basket hanging from a large crane lowers Barnard Construction Co. demolitioncrews and equipment to the bottom of the dam.

Workers will pack the holes with dynamite and the final blast should take place by the middle of this week, said Don Laford of Olympia, project manager for construction management company URS. The National Park Service hired the company to monitor the contractors’ work.

While much of the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam has been removed, about 2,000 cubic yards of concrete remain..

After the blast, it will take several weeks to get ride of large concrete chunks and clear the site.

A few days after contractors leave, the first public access to the Glines Canyon location will beon the east side via Whiskey Bend Road. Visitors will be allowed to walk to the edge – behind metal rails – and look down into the deep canyon. From there, they may see the river as it slices through the narrow canyon and flows over what was once Lake Mills.

Maynes said the park would need another month or two before opening the west side of the site via Olympic Hot Springs Road. So it probably won’t open until the end of the year, she said.

When it does open, visitors will be able to walk about 100 feet over the old spillway and gates.

“There will be wayside signs explaining the history of the dams, the role they played in the development of Port Angeles and the restoration process after the dams have been removed,” Maynes said.

Already, evidence of revegetation is visible. And much of the new growth, Maynes said, has taken place naturally. Alders have sprung up just below the spillway location, while farther up the old lake bed, grasses, wildflowers and bushes are growing on the exposed shoreline.

Future revegetation efforts call for the planting about 400,000 native plants at both dam locations.

Access to the Elwha Dam site is via a closed county road, just off state Route 112. A short downhill walk leads to an undeveloped viewing site.

For people who want an up-close view of the former Lake Aldwell site, the park offers free, ranger-led walks Tuesdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m through Sept. 2. The guided portion of the hike lasts about one hour.

Rangers lead participants out to the old lake bed, where visitors can see the shifting river channels, the changing sediments and items once hidden under the water, including giant stumps left after trees were logged a century ago before the lake filled up.

“We tell the story of how the river has changed, and how the area has changed,” said ranger Denison Rauw after he led a Tuesday afternoon walk. “There are even three boats that have been exposed.”

The walks begin at the former boat launch located at the end of Lake Aldwell Road, which turns north from U.S. Highway 101 just west of the Elwha River bridge. Participants should wear sturdy walking shoes or boots and be prepared for windy conditions with no shade.