By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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But never before have they made their trips suspended in the air.
In a first for the restoration work, crews with the Washington Conservation Corps and Olympic National Park last week suspended large canvas bags filled with 1- to 2-year-old trees and shrubs from a cable and guided them down a steep hill on a valley wall above and to the west of the former Lake Mills.
Revegetation team members used the zip-line-type cable suspended between a tree at the top of the hill and one at the bottom rather than risk hiking through the thick underbrush and fallen logs with bulky backpacks loaded with delicate seedlings and shrubs.
“It was kind of the safest way to do that,” said Joshua Chenoweth, the national park's lead on the Elwha revegetation project.
“This is the only time we've done this, where it's kind of challenging to get down from the trail to that spot.”
Chenoweth is in charge of joint efforts between the park and the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe that have planted tens of thousands of trees and native plants around the lakes once formed by the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.
The seven-year revegetation plan is just one facet of a $325 million National Park Service project to remove the massive dams and reopen 70 miles of salmon- and steelhead-spawning habitat that had been locked away for almost a century.
Removal of Elwha Dam was finished in March, while Glines Canyon Dam has been knocked down to about 50 feet.
Demolition work at Glines Canyon has been put on hold for now to give crews time to upgrade an industrial water-treatment plant on the lower Elwha River.
Removal of what's left of the dam will resume March 31, with full removal expected later this year, months ahead of schedule.
Chenoweth and his team were out under overcast skies last Tuesday and Wednesday in an area on the former western coast of the now-drained Lake Mills, about a half-mile from the remnants of the once-210-foot Glines Canyon Dam.
Team members, both volunteers and park employees, spent about a day and a half planting 2,200 individual seedling trees and young shrubs representing 30 different species native to the Elwha watershed, Chenoweth said.
“Typically for us, it's about 1,200 plants per day,” Chenoweth said.
“We're getting pretty efficient.”
Hiking a mile or two at a time is the only way to get these plants to their new homes, Chenoweth said, after the draining of the two lakes removed the possibility of using boats.
Last year, with the help of boats, crews installed 30,000 trees and shrubs at predetermined sites along the former lakes Aldwell and Mills, a figure roughly 8 percent of the total 400,000 slated for replanting over the next six years.
Chenoweth said crews have so far seen modest success as the myriad species start to take hold in the sediment that once was held behind the two dams, with monitoring efforts slated to continue throughout the entire revegetation process.
“It's been exciting, and we're looking forward to watching another growing season,” Chenoweth said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.