IT’S BEEN ANOTHER tough week in the news.
The Upper Hoh Road washed out again. This popular entrance to Olympic National Park welcomes over 80,000 cars a year up to the fee station where tourists can wait over an hour in the summer to get in.
Losing the road eliminates one of the biggest tourist attractions on the Olympic Peninsula.
It washes out about every year when a gully washer combines with a rising freezing level into a perfect storm of muddy water, logs and rocks rolling down the mountain destroying everything in its path.
Floods have been happening since the ice age. The problem was only noticed after the Upper Hoh Road was built.
The old timers said the road should have been built up on the sidehill away from the river, but no. The government built the road right along the river and it’s been washing out ever since.
It’s no wonder. The Hoh River routinely eats vast forests, chewing them up and spitting them out into giant log jams.
It grinds mountains into rubble washing downstream until it’s dumped on the ocean floor.
Man-made objects mean nothing to the Hoh River.
Nothing can stop the power of the Hoh River to eventually go where it wants to go.
There’s only a temporary Band-Aid fix and it’s expensive.
The only defense against the awesome power of the river are rocks, big ones and lots of them stacked up to protect the road from the river.
Called rip rap, these rocks are the only reason the Upper Hoh Road has been open this long.
Lately the practice of armoring roads with rip rap to save them from the river has fallen out of favor with the salmon restoration industry, which claims the practice harms fish.
They prefer to build log jams to attempt to control the destructive power of the river.
This ignores the fact our rivers flow out of mountains of rocks through rock-lined canyons across rocky bottomlands into a rocky ocean.
The fish were doing just fine with rocks until Europeans got here.
Are rocks put in rivers to save our roads bad for fish? How come some of our best fishing holes are along sections of the river armored with rip rap? Do fish prefer wood? Can they tell the difference? Or is it just another case of the salmon restoration industry spending as much grant money as it can?
Attempts to control the Hoh River with log jams were tried back in the last century.
It was a failure.
The locals were outraged.
In 2005 they spent $8 million building eight log jams to protect Highway 101 along the lower Hoh.
Fifteen years later the logs are rotting and floating away leaving ugly metal landmarks of this failed policy.
The Hoh River is commonly referred to as “the last best river in America.”
It’s a river of big fish and giant trees towering over blue water cutting through vast log jams and whitewater canyons of moss and ferns where you can see herds of elk, families of otters and eagles stealing fish from the osprey.
Putting engineered log jams in the Hoh River is the environmental equivalent of dumping garbage in the Grand Canyon.
Don’t worry, the Jefferson County road crew will fix the Upper Hoh Road in two weeks.
They’re a highball outfit with big rocks.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected].