By Georgie Bright Kunkel
Those two days that were predicted as possible sunny days recently turned into four sunny days on the northwest peninsula without a cloud over the Olympic Mountains nearby and the Cascade Mountains in clear view as well. I recognized glorious Mt. Baker that I had climbed one summer while going to WWU. A few years back I even visited the area to revel in a nearby mountain reflected in a pristine lake. Not even a drug store camera photo could diminish its grandeur.
Now here I was with my friend who has a much better sense of direction than I have. We wanted to view the progress of the dam removal project at Elwha Dam firsthand so he spotted the path to the trailhead where the warning sign read Not Handicapped Friendly, enter at your own risk. The next portion was narrow and winding and steep in spots but I was able to navigate this wooded hillside path without mishap and soon came out to an overlook above the Elwha River site where heavy equipment was being used to level out the area where the dam had stood. There was the river once more flowing in its usual path after the huge cement structure had disappeared.
Dam construction had began in 1910 and provided energy for the area but without any way for the fish to travel. After much research and controversy the Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act of 1992 was established and the federal government acquired the dam. Between 2006 and 2010 there have been 241 dams removed but this project provided a unique challenge. At the Elwha River it was decided that total removal was the only way to restore the river to its original state. Within one year fish will begin to return but it will take decades for the fish to replenish their numbers.
With an invigorating trail hike behind us, we settled in to local sightseeing resulting in a visit to Manresa Castle and a tour of the antique buildings in Port Townsend. As we turned one corner there were three lovely deer feeding in a private yard. They allowed me to approach slowly to snap a picture, the more mature of the three turning to watch every step that I took in case that I presented a threat to the little ones.
Now we were in the huge Ft. Worden area where we watched youngsters pulling on their kite strings in the big parade field. My friend walked into the park office to obtain a special pass to open the gate to drive into the historic weaponry site where men once tended canons trained out over the water.
It was like being in another age as we climbed down into one bunker and out the other side, visualizing what it had been like for those trained to protect the northwest area from enemy attack. Because of weaponry positions at Ft. Worden, Ft. Flagler and Ft. Casey in the 1890s, Puget Sound never sustained an attack.
Then we visited the harbor where I spotted a huge sign listing the historic account of the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony which my own grandfather had bought into before statehood. Across the way were two large murals painted by local Indian craftspeople who painted with such perspective that we could lose ourselves in the glorious scene of early Indians along the shore with long houses in the distance.
Letting the car roam at will we arrived at an overview of Dungeness Spit, the longest spit in the United States which has dared ships to come near in bad weather.
Turning in the other direction we could still view the Olympic Mountains seeming to beckon us to drive the switchback road to the viewpoint but we decided to save this trip until summer.
On the way out of Port Angeles I visited my 101 year old cousin to take pictures of our shared grandma and grandfather whose likenesses were displayed in antique frames on the wall. She lived in Port Angeles all her growing up years but her memory is fading so I could not pose questions which lurked in my mind. After a short visit, I sat for a picture with her and gave her a little hug goodbye, cherishing one of the first sunny days of early spring in a town I remember only faintly from rare car trips when I was very young.
Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-935-8663.