Stories from the River Community

My Columbia River - Ken Karch

We pulled into the Knappton boat launch area looking for a possible camp site, and found it essentially flooded. We were now on that stretch of the Washington shore where the highway runs along the shore, which is rip-rapped, and there is little in the way of camp sites available. We had realized that we were committed to go all the way to Chinook if we proceeded beyond Portuguese/Grays Point, but felt we could do it with the good tidal current and a little help from only modestly opposing winds.

We rounded Knappton Point, passed by Cliff Point and the highway rest stop, and shot past Point Ellice at 8-10 miles per hour amid 4-6 foot standing and confused waves and swells. Point Ellice held Lewis and Clark for five days in their passage here (and it is no wonder, given the open log canoes they had). We were tossed around like leaves, and many times submerged the noses of our kayaks before they muscled their way to the surface. We slowed down about a half-mile further as we came up on the McGowan church and Lewis and Clark’s Station Camp. While we would have liked to stop here, the shore is rip-rapped and dangerous to try to land, and time was drawing near for the final dash to a safe harbor before night.

We paddled past Station Camp and around Chinook Point, where we found several beautiful little rock coves with sand beaches, but weren’t ready to stop for the night (nor were we sure it would be legal to do so). At this point we saw the way ahead was covered with thousands of decaying wood pilings as far as the eye could see, the water levels had receded substantially and we were almost continuously hitting the sand bottom with our paddles. Bernie had kayaked this stretch once before and knew the serpentine way to the Port of Chinook navigation channel, so we followed his instincts, being now in a race between the falling water level; high, cold winds; a setting sun; and a dense fog bank coming on the western horizon which threatened to obscure the sun within an hour, and before it actually set. With 90 minutes of continuous, hard paddling, we finally reached the navigation channel and proceeded into the Port of Chinook marina, where we pulled our boats out, donned some dry clothes, checked out the overnight accommodations, and decided to call it a trip. Local queries indicated that weather was expected to be foggy and cold with high winds and seas the following day, and we were encouraged to stay off the water. We took the advice.

Ken Karch and Bernie Gerkens paddled most of the Lower Columbia River Water Trail one year in late August. View Karch’s Full Trip Report, which includes passages from the Lewis and Clark journals, and his overall impressions of the trip.

My Columbia River - Dave Krueger (Astoria)

Been on a tear the last couple weeks, shedding work-angst. Five days on the water over the last seven -- two overnights and a day trip. Yesterday it gelled.

Smack dab on a coarse sand beach, a divergence in the River, where eighty per cent of the flow edges to the south, past parallel mountains of dredge spoils, and another ten per cent shelves northward. The rest is spread over four miles of shallows and backwaters, all hell-bound for the sea.

A man-made place, yet wild. Broken trees and huge driftwood lace the swash line. Moss and dried annuals scratch at the sand on the dune. Double crested cormorants alight echelons of pile dikes, preening for a mate. Grebes "screebing" at each other, bragging of bigger fish, more fish. Seals smacking the water, chasing vanishing salmon.

Mongo freighters take the larger channel, and the Corps smooths their path with a million dollars a year in spoil extraction, to make the waters turn ten degrees south. Conservation of momentum and money in a standoff. We sit in awe, here shuddering at the power of the River, shaking piles and gouging sand.

The geese know it, the terns know it, and the immature eagle fifty yards off knows it. All are competing for a piece of this place.

And so am I, to scrabble a fragment of sanity. The sun is out, the wet suit off, food gulletting down with water as lubricant. A feeding mode not so much different from the soon-to-be-hatched goslings, now incubating under an adult, itself watched by the eagle, the redtail, and us.

The current runs in two directions here, generating boils and mild haystacks for us to dance over, and we ease off, skirting massive piles of sand, decorated at the lower end with feeble fences of plastic to divert terns. An eagle silhouette stands guard, and two matures help on a grounded root ball.

Leaving this special, diverse, remote place, though it will not leave us. We carry it back to civilization, a tonic for an interval, or maybe a lifetime, knowing it is there.

Are there sand-Druids?

Dave Kruger is a retired chemistry professor and long-time paddler on the Lower Columbia River Water Trail. When not on the water, or on a sandy island in the middle of the river, he can be found at the coffee shop on Smith Point in Astoria.

My Columbia River - Kris Parke (Nelson Creek, Skamokawa Area)

I am Kris Parke. I worked in a summer project with Hayden Miles, Joel McEntire, Claire Cothren, Paul Cutberth, Becky Hoven, and Kaylyn Kaattari, called the Nelson Creek Project. The project was originally John Doumit’s idea, a now retired FFA teacher. Jeff Rooklidge, a science teacher at Wahkiakum High School, taught and supervised us. Karen Bertroch, Director of Wahkiakum Community Foundation, found our funding, and organized many of our activities.

Our group conducted a scientific survey of Nelson Creek. People have told us, many times, there are so many watersheds in our area that the professionals in the field do not have enough time to monitor them all. That is why there needs to be more organizations like us. Properly trained local groups could monitor watersheds in their area, and then report their findings. This would allow the knowledge of the area to be greatly improved.
 
Some people might say, “It is just a little stream. In the summer, it’s just over a cubic foot of water traveling through per second.” That may seem like only a little, but every day 1,440 cubic feet of water flows into the Elochoman, and then into the Columbia River. In the winter there is often 21 cubic feet of water traveling through the stream every second. That is the equivalent of 30,240 cubic feet of water per day.
 
We tried to get all sides of the picture. To do this, we learned from professionals in the field of science, such as Ian Sinks from CLT and Allan Whiting from CREST. Then, we talked to local landowners who have lived here for generations. We also observed a Debriae logging operation and talked to Mark Stanley, a logging safety inspector, to learn about the forestry practices in place to protect streams, such as buffer zones, and the SFI stamp. Finally, we talked to Wahkiakum County Commissioner Dan Cothren about owl circles and murrelet nest sites.
 
Another issue we discussed was noxious weeds. Knotweed can spread several ways in our area. It can send out rhizomes through its roots, which allow large clumps to grow, and the nodes, or places where a leaf stalk branches out, can grow into a whole new plant if they are washed down stream. Purple loosestrife can also spread extremely rapidly. Each mature plant can have approximately thirty flower heads, and each head is capable of producing two to three million seeds per year. These noxious weeds are a huge problem because they crowd out our native wetland plants, and ruin the diversity of the ecosystem. The most common control method for knotweed is injection with a glyphosate herbicide. There is a biological control method for purple loosestrife, two species of Galerucella beetle and a root-eating weevil (Hylobius transversovittatus).
 
In order for the health of our watersheds to improve, we have to start small and get all the small watersheds healthy, and work our way downward. If we get the small watersheds as close to their natural state as possible, the rivers they feed into, such as the Columbia will improve themselves. If we keep this attitude, and get our communities involved, I think we could keep our area healthy, and improve it for generations to come.
 
Kris Parke participated in the 2005 Nelson Creek Project. The project was funded primarily by a grant from the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership. Parke and fellow student Hayden Miles won awards at the statewide FFA Spring Fair for the project.
My Columbia River - Greg Fuhrer

As I was going through old photos and post cards belonging to my grandfather, a third generation Swiss mountain guide, I came across a 1912 card that he had written to his father. It read, “Father, you must come to America, the peaks in the Pacific Northwest are largely unclimbed and remind me of home.” My Grandfather made a life long career of first ascents and exploration in the Cascades, the Canadian Rockies, and the Tetons. The home that he made in this country for my father, and ultimately for me, was nestled near Mt. Hood, and only a short distance from the impressive sight of the Columbia River.

 
I grew up with the river in my backyard, and like many native Oregonians viewed the river as a marvelous spectacle and a powerful force. As a child, my mother showed me a high-water mark in the hall closet of her childhood home. This mark was left by the Columbia River and it was beyond my comprehension how the Columbia River could have disfigured this beautiful home. She told me of the destruction by the Vanport Flood —the result of the spring snowmelt of 1948. This flood caused multiple dike failures along the Columbia River and reduced America’s largest post-war housing project to rubble in an hour’s time. From that day on, I had the utmost respect for this magnificent river. 
 
My first deep connection with the Columbia River occurred as part of my job as a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Although opportunities for first ascents and novel exploration no longer exist within the Cascades, the water resources of the Columbia River still welcome exploration and study.  One of my first field assignments was to assess contaminants in sediments in the lower Columbia River Estuary. I still remember locating various sampling locations on navigational charts and maps for my field trip. There was Baker Bay on the Washington side, Young’s Bay and Cathlamet Bay on the Oregon side, main channel sites, and ocean sites just north and south of the Columbia River jetties. This map exercise did not prepare me for the wide expanse of the estuary, its powerful currents, and tricky bar. I was fascinated with the calm backwater areas of the lower estuary, but quickly learned the real meaning of the term “bottom swells”.  My body lacked any reasonable ability to deal with the seemingly random motion of water outside the confines of the jetties; seasickness was my only companion. Nonetheless, this trip, and many to follow, was fruitful in understanding some of the environmental challenges within the estuary.
 
To this day —and no different from when I was a child—I continue to have the utmost respect for this magnificent river. With the added passage of time though, I also realize that the river isn’t invulnerable; its power is undeniable, but its protection rests in the hands of those of us who are connected to this great river.
 
Greg Fuhrer is the Acting Associate Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon Water Science Center.