Episode 1: The Fish Ladder from Voyages of Rediscovery on Vimeo.

By Conor Mihell

Canoe & Kayak Awards nominee Adam Wicks-Arshack says his Washington state-based outdoor education non-profit Voyages of Rediscovery is "getting a little political" in its next project. Starting August 1, Wicks-Arshack and Voyages of Rediscovery crew John Zinser, Xander Demetrios, Peter Bruno and Shane Turnbull will set off on a 1,200-mile canoe journey upstream on the Columbia River, from the Pacific Ocean to its headwaters north of the Canadian border. Along the way, the pair will meet up with the same middle- and high-school students who've assisted Voyages of Rediscovery in the construction of five dugout canoes over the past nine months. Besides introducing kids to paddling and celebrating life on the river, Wicks-Arshack says the sea-to-source mission is to kickstart a discussion about the possibility of fish ladders around the massive Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, which have blocked salmon from reaching spawning grounds in the Columbia's headwaters for nearly a century.

Map of the route up the Columbia. Courtesy Adam Wicks-Arshack

Each of the five 20- to 30-foot cedar canoes the team has built is stylized and named after a species of salmon that once spawned on the upper Columbia. The canoes were built in schools in communities directly affected by the dams—Inchelium on the Colville Confederate Tribes Reservation, Kettle Falls, Wellpinit on the Spokane Tribe Reservation, and the Medicine Wheel Academy of the Community School in Spokane. "The idea behind the canoes [and the expedition] is to bring the salmon back to the upper reaches of the river," explains Wicks-Arshack. "We carved these canoes with thousands of students who've had the salmon removed from their culture by the Grand Coulee Dam."

Wicks-Arshack isn't calling for the removal of America's largest producer of hydroelectricity—the Grand Coulee Dam stands 550 feet tall and was completed in 1942 to "create power for millions of people." Rather, the expedition was conceived to highlight the need for change for a healthier Columbia River ecosystem. "The Grand Coulee Dam was once considered to be the greatest engineering project the world had ever seen," notes Wicks-Arshack. "Now lets get started with the greatest eco-engineering project—a fish ladder at the Grand Coulee Dam."

Courtesy Adam Wicks-Arshack

Click HERE to read about more “big-canoe” outreach programs.
HERE to read more about Voyages of Rediscovery’s past efforts.
HERE to vote for the 2013 Canoe & Kayak Awards’ Paddle with Purpose nominees.
And follow Voyages of Rediscovery's blog HERE to find out how you can join the team on the river.