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Rowdy River

Chapter I in series of articles on the White Salmon River

Chapter I



It is hard to realize that we have had a "salmon problem" for more than 100 years. But it is made very clear with the announcement that the Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery at Underwood will observe its centennial year on Sept. 8, 2001.

The event will include appropriate fanfare such as Native American music and many visiting dignitaries.

Heavy commercial fishing in the lower Columbia between 1870 and 1890 so affected the salmon runs that the alarm was sounded. The advent of fishwheels at upstream narrows further compounded the problem. The commercial fishing lobby was so strong that Congress was moved to authorize a series of salmon hatcheries on Columbia tributaries.

We will soon be celebrating the bicentennial of the time when Lewis and Clark observed and recorded the Indian fishery at the mouth of the White Salmon River -- that they called Canoe Creek. The Indians were preparing their bounteous salmon harvest just as they had done for generations. The fish were fried on pole racks that dotted the waterfront.

It was natural that our rowdy White Salmon River and the nearly Little White Salmon should play a part. There was a great deal of interplay between these and other proposed hatchery locations as the grand plans unfolded.

It was soon noted that the White Salmon had limitations. The narrow gorges, usually swift currents and waterfalls at Husum and in the gorge above, were noted as obstacles. And at this time the White Salmon was a busy conduit for logs as the Menominee Lumber Company floated great volumes of logs through the narrows for rafting in the estuary.

Also, at this early date, the White Salmon was being eyed as one of the best potentials for hydro-power production.

Ed LaMotte, who has been manager of the Spring Creek Hatchery since 1985, tells it in a most interesting way. Here, in brief, is his story:

An innovative fish biologist, Dennis Winn, was involved at the White Salmon and Little White Salmon locations.

Perhaps more by luck than by design, eggs were collected in the White Salmon and taken to nearby Spring Creek as an experiment. Those waters imprinted the smolts incubated there. In time the adult salmon returned to this alternate site to spawn. It put the new hatchery in a more favorable place than on the busy White Salmon, then choked with logging activity.

A systematic gathering of eggs in the White Salmon with the aid of weirs and holding ponds eventually completed the transfer. An amazing "first" was accomplished by Winn and his associates.

In reviewing the history of the lower river, I have found two interesting items that intersect. One is the early-day photo of "The Narrows" about three miles upstream from the Columbia confluence. It has been long-neglected in my photo files. It was taken in the 1910-1912 period where the entire White Salmon River pours through a deep-walled channel 150 feet deep and no more than 25 feet wide. It was the site of frequent log jams during the turn of the century logging heyday.

The other interesting item was a clipping from The Enterprise of December 11, 1910, encouraging people to go out to see this spectacular channel where so many brave and dangerous episodes happened. Breaking up the log jams with dynamite was costly, picking at them to find and release the key log was extremely dangerous. Chains and ropes anchored in the walls gave the loggers both access from above -- and an escape route when the jam broke up if they were lucky!

But the exciting river drive days would soon end. By 1913 the new Northwestern Electric dam and powerhouse were producing electricity that went first to power the then new paper mills at Camas. "The Narrows" were between the dam and the powerhouse one mile lower down the swift river. The popular Northwestern Lake created behind the dam was a welcome by-product of the project.


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