Visitor overlooks would allow watching Elwha Dam come down, restored valley grow up

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners Monday said they will back an effort to create overlooks and an interpretive center to allow visitors to watch the Elwha Dam come down and restored valley behind it grow up.

The county and Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway Association are seeking a $329,600 Federal Highway Administration grant to create the visitor complex off state Highway 112 just east of its Elwha River bridge.

The commissioners today are expected to formally approve a letter of support for the National Scenic Byway grant.

If the grant is approved, the byway association and county would build a series of interpretive kiosks at sites overlooking the older of the two Elwha River dams scheduled for removal in a $327 million National Park Service-run restoration project starting in September.

The Elwha River interpretive gateway project would happen in two phases.

First, the county and byway association would build a trail to two viewing areas east of Lower Dam Road that would allow the public to witness the removal of the 108-foot Elwha Dam and hydro station that date back nearly 100 years.

Not visible from the site would be the upper Glines Canyon Dam, which is also being dismantled.

Parking for the trail to the overlooks and eight kiosks with stories about the Elwha River would be placed near the entrance to the Elwha Dam RV Park.

The county will close Lower Dam Road just past the RV park on July 1 to allow the contractor, Barnard Construction Co. Inc. of Bozeman, Mont., to set up a staging area on the west side of the road away from the public.

A glossy, 24-page booklet with information about the Elwha River, including perspective from the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, would be included in Phase 1 of the byway project.

In 2014, after the contractor leaves the temporary staging area following the dam’s removal, Clallam County would install permanent kiosks and a parking area to give the public a place to view the rebirth of the valley that’s now Lake Aldwell reservoir.

“This will be a really fabulous project if we get this grant,” County Administrator Jim Jones said.

“It will be something that will last a long, long time, not just during the dam removal.”

Two permanent structures would house the information kiosks and illustration panels.

The county is allowing Barnard Construction to use the overlook land, which it recently acquired from the state Department of Transportation, as a staging area in exchange for permanent lighting, fencing and a cement vault toilet.

Olympic National Park has invited the likes of President Barack Obama and rocker Jon Bon Jovi to attend a Sept. 17 ceremony to mark the historic removal of the dams.

The project, billed as the largest of its kind in U.S. history, is intended to restore the river’s salmon runs.

“There’s global attention on us right now,” scenic byway coordinator Michelle Little told the three county commissioners on Monday.

“The world is watching the dam removal and restoration project, so it’s a great opportunity for us to do something.”

The three-year National Scenic Byway grant will be awarded in October, after removal of the lower dam begins.

“On Sept. 17, when the big kickoff party happens, nothing will be ready or known by then most likely,” Little said.

Commissioner Mike Doherty cautioned that the Elwha River interpretive gateway “isn’t a done deal.”

“It’s packaged in a way that if we don’t get the grant, this won’t proceed, but we think there’s some ways to incrementally do some things,” Doherty said.

Doherty said the National Park Service will have temporary signs with limited public access in the early phases of dam deconstruction.

The grant request is $263,680 with a $65,920 in-kind match.

Clallam County’s share of the match would be $48,620, mostly in labor and materials, Little said.

The deadline for the grant application is Friday.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

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