Jerry Dixon, of Seward, Alaska
The next section of the journey involved kayaking rivers -- the Clearwater
to the Snake, the Snake to the Columbia, and down the Columbia to
Wallula Gap at the mouth of the Walla Walla River. The Middle Snake
River between Lewiston and Ice Harbor Dam no longer is a great river
where wild salmon return each fall to the pristine mountain streams
of their birth.This area more resembles a "dead zone" where
the turbid waters are filled with carp and Eurasian milfoil. The hills
surrounding these slackwaters are covered with exotics (non-native
species) like cheat grass and yellow thistle.
I arrived in Kamiah after mountain biking across Lolo Pass and right
away took my whitewater kayak down the Clearwater to Orofino. Although
there is a road along the river here, it is still a beautiful section
of water and there were no other boaters the day I made the trip.
Kayaking the crystal waters brought back wonderful memories of boating
the Lochsa River (which after joining the Selway becomes the Clearwater)
in high water during the 1970's. Today's boaters would hardly recognize
the 13-foot fiberglass boats we used then. Those were the glory days
when one could run any river in the Northwest as many times as desired
without a permit.
Bill Burgel and I used his sea kayaks to paddle from Orofino on the
Clearwater to the Snake River and then the Columbia and Wallula Gap.
Bill and I have boated together for a generation. I kayaked with his
children as they grew up running rivers, and now he boats with mine.
What stunned me on this stretch was that the Snake Lakes were full
of carp and an exotic weed, while two of the six barges we saw during
the time we paddled were shuttling salmon up and down the river. The
water was thick with algae and exotics around where grain barges were
being loaded. What a travesty. Bill and I had expected to see many
more barges, so we actually had rear view mirrors on our glasses when
we paddled this section from Orofino to the Columbia. They proved
totally unnecessary as there was so little barge traffic. Even if
one triples the amount of barges to three per day for the time we
were paddling, that's only 18 in six days, an anemic amount of traffic
for which humans destroyed priceless fisheries habitat for 140 miles.
this riparian area is continually "washed" by the waves
generated from barges. One sternwheeler set up a wave train that lasted
seven minutes and scrubbed the shore with driftwood and debris. We
saw very little powerboat traffic during the voyage and most seemed
to stay very close to marinas. With the exception of these areas,
the campgrounds built along the rip-rapped shores were empty. A federal
General Accounting Office study should be done to see how much money
each of these campgrounds loses each year. Contrast that with the
fact that users on the Salmon River must pay a $5/day fee for each
day they are on the river. An assessed fee like that would totally
empty this region of visitors. Compared to the rafting/floating traffic
I witnessed on the Main, Middle Fork Salmon and Deschutes rivers,
the number of boaters on the Snake was negligible. The Main and Middle
Fork of the Salmon are oversubscribed by factors of 70 and 170. At
Campbell's Ferry on the Main Salmon during the summer of 2003, I counted
28 rafts and almost 150 boaters in a few hours.
Along 11 miles of the Deschutes River in Oregon there were 13 boats
and almost 50 floaters, fishers, hikers etc. That was more than we
saw for most of the nearly 200 miles distance we traveled on the Snake
Everyone should at least once in his or her lifetime experience being
"locked" through a major dam. It gives a real sense of how
these rivers are blocked when one paddles into the lock and are then
lowered to the river. At Little Goose lock we were told we were the
only kayaks they had seen in two years.
When we put our kayaks in below Ice Harbor Dam to float to the Columbia
we found it to be a garbage dump. I saw more garbage in one parking
lot below this dam than I saw floating over 350 miles of wild Salmon
River this past summer. I was privileged to see the healthy Snake
River in 1966 when I traveled through this area by road. On this return
trip I found the contrast to be mind-blowing. America needs to unchain
the Snake River and set her free. This river will return five times
the benefits to us of a free-flowing, wild salmon-filled stream, as
I knew her in my youth.
It was exciting boating to the Columbia. As we paddled into this wide
river another kayaker pulled up next to us and said, "You look
like you're traveling far. Where are you headed?"
"The Pacific," we told him.
We kayaked from Pasco to Wallula Gap and found intense barge traffic
on the river, a railroad along one side, a highway on the other, and
many factories along the way. There were islands set aside as wildlife
refuges and the fields of energy-producing windmills visible from
the Columbia were uplifting.
Read the six-part account of Jerry's trip:
of the Mountains to Lemhi Pass
Pass to the Salmon, float Salmon to the Lost Trail
of the Beaverhead Mountain Range
Trail Pass to Lolo and across the Lolo Pass
the Clearwater to the Snake, Snake to Columbia and Columbia to Wallula
Biking to the Pacific
Back to main page of this journey.
Photos by Jerry Dixon. Top: Bill Burgel prepares
his sea kayak after camping on the north shore to continue paddling
down the middle Snake section in Washington. Middle: Bill "rigged
to sail" with an umbrella is paddling down the Snake hoping for
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