After nearly three months travelling upstream, a group of American paddlers have spanned nearly 2,000 kilometres along a route that was once a favourite spawning environment for salmon.
Members of the Voyagers of Rediscovery embarked on the journey on Friday, August 2nd from Astoria, Oregon, with Canal Flats — the headwaters of the Columbia River — serving as their final destination. The project is part of an environmental educational program, and the team has been sharing their experiences at schools throughout their trip.
“We are travelling for fish passage; in the grand scheme, we would like to see fish ladders installed on the dams which don’t have any, which is the Chief Joseph and the Grand Cooley Dam,” said paddler Jay Callahan, adding that the river has endorsed their journey. “We’ve had good weather where its normally poor and the wind at our backs when we needed it most.”
Before their arrival in Canal Flats, the crew made one last stop in Windermere at the Lakeshore Resort Campground on Saturday, October 27th, where they were warmly welcomed by the Ktunaxa First Nation.
Their trip is symbolic of the spawning route that was very important before the completion of the Grand Cooley Dam in northeast Washington, which drastically reduced the Columbia Valley’s salmon fishery.
The crew arrived in two watercraft: a raft and a canoe, which was modelled after a previous traveller of the Columbia River, explorer David Thompson.
“He improvised and built basically birchbark canoes,” Mr. Callahan said.
“Then he got into the middle of the Columbia, where there was no birch, so he split out cedar planks and made big cedar canoes for transporting furs and stuff.”
And that’s what the Voyagers of Rediscovery did – after crafting a birchbark canoe from their start near the Pacific Ocean, they left several canoes with schools along the way, and re-crafted a new one from cedar wood in Kettle Falls, Washington.
And because the tree was over 300-years-old, salmon would have coexisted and exchanged nutrients in its ecosystem for the majority of its lifespan.
“The tree literally has the spirit of the salmon in it,” said another member of the voyage, John Zinser.
While it would be easier to paddle from the source of the water into the ocean, the team decided to paddle against the current to mimic the journey of the salmon, Mr. Kinser said.
He believes that many of the residents along the Columbia River are disconnected from the importance of the habitat, as some people they’ve met along the way were unaware that the Columbia River connects to the ocean.
The group reached Canal Flats on Monday, October 28th, and have months worth of speaking engagements booked at schools along the river.