Think global, paddle local

Inside the White Salmon RiverFest and Symposium

Photos and text by Adam Elliott

Amid all the world crises, celebrity drama, and financial hardships, sometimes it’s difficult to feel connected to the issues that our own watersheds face. Local issues often play second flute to national ones. At other times, going to our local rivers is all about disconnecting from national politics, daily grinds and pop culture--we go to play on our rivers.

And so, how refreshing it is to have both at the seventh annual White Salmon RiverFest and Symposium, enjoying this southern Washington gem while addressing those overlooked local issues. The White Salmon is home to several stretches of classic whitewater, lush orchards and views of snowy volcanoes. There is something here for every river-runner: mountain lakes, steep creeking, world-class rafting trips. Condit Dam on the White Salmon has made big news in recent years for being one of the largest dams to be dismantled (Read more HERE). The June 9 festival day was wonderfully balanced between good, solid water fun, a barbecue and raffle, plus a tour of the dam site, and several informative talks given by local agencies, advocates, and community leaders.

The Saturday started out a little drizzly, perfect to keep drinking coffee and have a private tour of a dam deconstruction. All seems to be progressing well. According to recent safety report, "By May 31, 2012, approximately 6,800 cubic yards of concrete from the original dam crest elevation of 285 feet down to elevation 262 feet had been removed." Read more on hazards and boating access HERE.

Next up was kayak and raft races from BZ Falls to Husum--over 27 minutes! Plus any local community member received a massive discount to go rafting from $65 down to $25 for the day. Locals Corey Williams and the Oregon Rafting Team won the events, respectively.

At the Symposium, as in other conversations, the two most popular topics surrounding the dam removal are new recreation possibilities and restored salmon, steelhead and lamprey habitats. Pat Arnold, representing Friends of the White Salmon; Jeanette Burkhardt, from Yakima Nations Fisheries; and Rod Engle, of U.S. Fish and Wildlife gave us all a huge plate of information to feast from. (Read more HERE)

Barbeque, raffle, and bluegrass dance party made the night complete. There was a huge pile of swag up for the raffle, while everyone feasted on burgers, pasta salad and micro-brews. Bluegrass bands like the The Shed Shakers should be at every takeout party.

Thinking back on the arc of the day, I didn't check my phone once for my gadget rss feed, I got to see a free-flowing White Salmon under the skeleton of a dam, rafted between the huge cut-banks of lake sediment, freshly sprinkled with wildflowers, played in the currents like our returned salmon, re-engaged with watershed management issues and danced like my soul depended on it. It was a good day.