Last year I paddled 1,243 miles up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Ore. to the headwaters at Canal Flats, BC. It was three months of paddling and ZERO wilderness areas. Modern society on both sides of the border has turned the Columbia River into an industrial river. With 14 huge dams, the extirpation of salmon in the upper river, trains and roads running along each riverbank, and large pulp mills and nuclear reactors spewing pollutants, the Columbia River is not a wilderness river. We must learn from some of these mistakes.
Contrast this with the Fraser River, which has no dams to impede salmon or flow. Canadians have a much stronger tie to the Fraser and its powerful waters compared to the engineered waterway of the Columbia River—because the Fraser is still wild. On the Canadian Columbia, there are very few access points for paddlers, no guiding, no adventure tourism. On the Fraser there are vast sections of wilderness where First Nations still fish for salmon using traditional methods, whitewater rafting opportunities are plentiful and the people have a strong connection to the land. This connection is lost when industry decimates a river or what was once a wilderness area.
The future of wilderness is in our hands as paddlers and citizens. Industry and government continue to put a value on nature by extracting natural resources. Our challenge is to express and document the importance, the need for wilderness areas. How can you put a financial value on that special moment when you dip your cup into a crystal clear northern lake and quench your thirst? It’s something special when we experience the priceless values of wilderness.
Washington-based outdoor educator Adam Wicks-Arshack has reintroduced the art of birchbark canoe-building on a remote Canadian First Nation and shaped massive dugout canoes in the Pacific Northwest. His last summer integrated youth in a paddling expedition shedding light on migratory salmon in the Columbia River watershed.
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