The road that once was. Klickitat River
Our Klickitat River Haul Road Project will finally be completed this year with help from a powerful partnership.

 

Columbia Land Trust’s lengthiest and most dramatic restoration project to date is the Klickitat River Haul Road project north of Klickitat, Washington. Together the Yakama Nation Fisheries Program and the Land Trust set out more than fifteen years ago to free one of Washington’s longest undammed rivers from a failed and washed out logging road. The degraded road disconnected the watershed from its historic floodplain and threatened critical fish habitat.

A Brief History

In 2004, the Land Trust saw an opportunity to conserve an imperiled watershed key to salmon and steelhead survival along the Klickitat River. We began a three-year land acquisition process to conserve 475 acres of wildlife habitat and river frontage, including 12 miles of a degraded logging road that served as the only private access through a 14,000-acre state wildlife area. Finally in 2007, with funding from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the property was officially protected from future development and set the stage for large-scale restoration.  In the following seven years, scores of contractors worked in five separate phases with funding from the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Yakama Nation Fisheries Program, LP Brown Foundation, and the Linblad-Expeditions National Geographic Fund. Teams removed over 170,000 tons of road fill and more than eight miles of asphalt. Five miles of rip rap (loose stone) was removed from the shoreline and replaced with more than 40,000 native trees and shrubs, woody log jams were constructed in the floodplain for habitat diversity, side channels and backwater channels were reconnected to the river, and bedrock walls (the natural substructure) were finally revealed. Nature got to work carving out beaches, islands, natural pools, and gravel bars that provided habitat complexity and places for fish to rest, rear, and spawn.

“To the Yakama people, the fish in the Columbia River and its tributaries are of critical importance to culture, diet, health, and economics,” said Habitat Biologist David Lindley from Yakama Nation Fisheries. “The Klickitat River offers one of the few remaining places where tribal members can fish using traditional methods.”  Our partners at Yakama Nation Fisheries have wholeheartedly supported this project with countless hours, resources, and more than $900,000 total in matching funds to safeguard this fragile and irreplaceable tributary of the Columbia River.

The River Now

Today the Klickitat River has reclaimed much of its historic 100-year floodplain in the project area. One would hardly believe a road once existed, on what is now a wild and remote wildlife corridor. Salmon and steelhead are once again utilizing these long lost features on the floodplain and species from Lewis’s woodpeckers to black bears to western gray squirrels are enjoying the amplified solitude of a wild river. 

Last summer, Columbia Land Trust and Yakama Nation Fisheries began planning the removal of the remaining three miles of road fill. They dug test pits to determine the location of bedrock in the road prism, which indicated how much road fill would need to be removed and ultimately how much of this tedious work would cost. Lindley informed the Land Trust in late 2016 that he had secured additional match of $550,000 from Yakama Nation Fisheries.

Armed with this incredible news, the Land Trust can now freely implement the sixth and final phase of the project, which aims to remove another three miles of road fill by fall 2017.  “This final phase of road removal is twice the length we’ve attempted to remove in a single year,” said Cornelius. “With each phase, there are impacts to both the river’s resources and to its users, so our goal is to speed the process up and minimize these effects.”

The Future of the River

The Land Trust welcomes recreationists of all kinds, including rafters, bird watchers, hikers, cyclists, and anglers to visit and observe the changes. We want future generations to look back on this monumental project and know that if enough people care about a landscape, and they are patient enough to see it through, then real and lasting change will follow.

After phase six is complete, both the upstream and downstream access points will remain paved, providing access for families and children to safely reach the project area.  Extreme fire risk may necessitate closing the property to public access during some portions of the year. Visitors can check Columbia Land Trust’s website for access status throughout the summer.

“It’s a rare opportunity that someone gets to be involved in a project of this scope,” said Cornelius. “Our partners at Yakama Nation Fisheries trusted us to move forward and to work together on something we both deeply care about. It has been a testimony to their integrity and their devotion to protecting the region that so many species of plants, animals, and local people depend on. I’ll be excited to watch for the rest of my life how the river responds.”

 

Watch our short film A River Reborn to learn more about the project and stay tuned for updates on the final phase of a long and worthy journey.