By Susan Elliott

Growing up as a member of the Quinault Indian Nation surrounded by the Olympic Peninsula's incredible wealth of rivers, Ashley Lewis assumed that every kid grew up playing on rivers. "My family would load up and go to the river for day trips in the summer to swim and float," she describes. Of course, not all kids were as lucky as she soon learned. Today, Lewis runs Bad Ash Fishing, a guiding service that allows her to share her beaming enthusiasm for rivers with anyone interested in catching salmon and steelhead on the Quinault and Queets rivers. With 19 new Wild & Scenic rivers currently proposed for designation on the peninsula, Lewis has new reasons to share her rivers. "As I spend more time on the Olympic Peninsula, even deep in the forest, I encounter others who love these places too. It is through those encounters that I got involved with protecting the rivers," she says.

Photo by Colin Arisman from ‘Wild Olympics

What is different about a Wild and Scenic River compared to most other rivers you've floated and fished?
Wild and Scenic rivers require you to learn their true nature and patterns. Rivers that have been tampered with are usually more predictable, like rivers that are controlled by dams. A wild river changes in accordance with weather patterns and seasons, causing me to learn my river in many different water stages. I feel like a more skilled fisher because I get the opportunity to try a river that is truly different every day.

If you could protect another river as Wild and Scenic, which would it be and why?
I want the Queets and Quinault rivers to be protected under the Wild Olympics Bill. These rivers are home to five species of salmon that are the lifeline of the Quinault people. Quinault natives have lived off the salmon and walked these rivers since time immemorial; without salmon our very culture slips away. Protecting the rivers and their fish is to protect our way of life.

What is your favorite designated or proposed Wild and Scenic River?
The Quinault is my favorite river. The river is fed by four glaciers, and controlled by a lake separating the upper and lower. So when it rains, the river generally remains unchanged while surrounding rivers are filling with water rapidly. On days most fishers rule out fishing due to weather, I know I can count on the Quinault to catch a fish.

More on the wild rivers of the Olympic Peninsula:

Wild Olympics – Trailer from Wild Confluence on Vimeo.

— Read Part I in Voices for Wild and Scenic on Minnesota guide and river advocate Duncan Storlie, Part II on guide and river activist Curtis England, and Part III on Arizona access advocate Dannie Keil.

— See more on the 50-year anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and more from Susan Elliott: ‘The Party That Saved the Gauley

— Check out Susan and Adam Elliott’s new ‘Paddling America’ guidebook, inspiring exploration of 200 protected U.S. rivers.