Kamron Meadows

Byway association’s Elwha River interpretative center off state Highway 112 expected to open in fall

PORT ANGELES — History in the making will become history recorded when the Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway Association’s interpretive center arises on the bank of the Elwha River.

Construction is expected to begin in September on the 30-foot-by-30-foot center with about 16 panels of 4-foot-by-6-foot panels describing in words and graphics the history of the Elwha River and the $325 million dam removal and restoration project.

“We have done a lot of interpretive kiosks, but this is our first destination stop — a place where you would plan to go,” said Carolyn Flint, assistant project manager for the scenic byways association.

The center is expected to open this fall.

Funded by a $208,000 Federal Highway Administration grant, the center will be on Lower Dam Road just east of the state Highway 112 bridge over the Elwha River, on the site once used as a staging area for Bernard Construction Co., of Bozeman, Mont., as it took down the Elwha Dam.

In front of the self-guided center, which will be visible from Highway 112, will be a 16-foot-tall cedar log donated by Merrill & Ring, Inc.

Inside, some 300 tiles hand-painted by students at Dry Creek Elementary School and Crescent School will add color to the floor beneath the panels.

“We asked the students to paint images of things that live on the Elwha River,” Flint said.

The students have painted salmon, ferns, dragonflies, deer, bear, clams, berries, trilliums and other common sights on the banks of the river west of Port Angeles.

A vault toilet, picnic tables and a bicycle rack also will be installed.

The scenic byway association — representatives of Joyce, the Lower Elwha and Makah tribes, the park, Clallam Bay-Sekiu and Merrill & Ring — has worked on the project for about a year, said Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty, who is the county’s representative.

“The county approved it a week ago,” he said last week.

The state Department of Transportation will check to see if the project complies with federal guidelines for scenic byways.

The county then will request bids for its construction.

That’s expected in September, Doherty said, with the center to open in mid-fall.

The grant to the scenic byway association is administered by Clallam County, which owns the site.

The county matched the grant with the donation of the toilet, about a $50,000 value, said Rich James, county transportation program manager.

Scenic byway association matching was some $50,000 of in-kind services.

Of the grant, $60,000 went to the design by Lindberg and Smith Architects of Port Angeles, James said, and pays for the two scenic byway coordinators: Flint and project manager Michelle Little, who worked with the Olympic National Park and the Lower Elwha tribe to create content for the panels and for a 24-page booklet.

Laurel Black Design of Port Angeles created the graphics for the interpretive panels and the booklet.

The panels and booklet encompass the beginnings of the river, the erection of two dams to provide electricity for the development of Port Angeles and other communities and the effect on fish — and therefore the tribe that relied upon them — when the dams were built without fish ladders and blocked migration and spawning for the last century.

They will tell of the 20 years of planning for the restoration project and the work that has been done.

The century-old Elwha Dam was demolished by March 2012 and the once-210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam is now down to 30 feet and expected to be completely removed later this year.

Once it goes, the final barrier against migrating salmon will be removed.

Fish already are breeding in the Elwha and its tributaries and native plants have taken root in the areas left bare by the draining of Aldwell and Mills lakes.

The center, which is ADA- accessible, is friendly to all travelers, adults, children and cyclists, Flint said.

The project is the largest undertaken by the scenic byways association, Flint said, adding that the group has created many kiosks along the highway “to aid visitors in understanding the history, sites and natural wonders they encounter” as they travel along state Highway 112.

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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