Rebar and other structural remnants pose risk of injury or death on the river, Olympic National Park official warns; other recreation remains limited.

Share story

Olympic National Park warns that leftover structural debris at the site of the former Elwha Dam poses a “high risk of serious injury or death” for rafters, paddlers and swimmers on the Elwha River.

The dam was removed in 2012, but remnants of the dam’s foundation remain. That includes rebar and “long, sharp pieces of twisted metal” that extend close to the water’s surface, according to a warning issued Friday afternoon. Boulders and swift currents in the area compound the risks.

“The risk of snagging a boat on the remaining metal is high and presents a very real danger to boaters and swimmers,” Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in an emailed statement. “Until we are able to correct this problem later this year, we urge everyone to portage around the old Elwha Dam site.”

The site is in Clallam County west of Port Angeles, between U.S Highway 101 and state Highway 112, outside Olympic National Park. The park is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan for removing the metal during this summer’s low river flows.

A recommended 700-foot portage route around the dam site is described as “difficult,” including a 100-foot elevation gain.

In the world’s largest project of its kind, the Elwha Dam and nearby Glines Canyon Dam, taken out in 2014, were removed to restore fish habitat and the natural river ecosystem.

A posting warns about hazards at the site of the former Elwha Dam and shows the location and routing for portaging around the dam site. (Olympic National Park graphic)
A posting warns about hazards at the site of the former Elwha Dam and shows the location and routing for portaging around the dam site. (Olympic National Park graphic)

Other recreation access limited

The Elwha River is closed to boating from the Smokey Hill Trail (formerly Upper Lake Mills Trail) downstream to the now-closed Altair Campground. The river is open to boating from the Altair Campground downstream, but boating through the former Elwha Dam site is strongly discouraged.

The Olympic Hot Springs Road, which provides access into the upper Elwha Valley, remains closed to motor vehicles at the park boundary due to a major road washout. (Get more background here.) National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration engineers have completed plans for repairing and reopening the road. These plans are currently under review by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The agencies, which oversee management and protection of threatened and endangered anadromous fish and fish habitat, are reviewing plans to ensure that threatened chinook and bulltrout populations are not adversely affected.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and Washington State Department of Ecology are also reviewing the park’s plans. Once plans are approved, construction is expected to take approximately eight weeks.

The road is currently open to pedestrians, bicyclists, horses and leashed pets. Trails remain closed to pets and bicycles, as normal. Hikers planning day or overnight hikes into the Elwha Valley will need to begin their hikes at the park boundary. From the closure, it is a seven-mile walk to the Whiskey Bend Trailhead and an eight-mile walk to the Boulder Creek trailhead.

For more information about visiting Olympic National Park, including current road, campground and trail conditions, see www.nps.gov/olym.