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Senior Correspondent

Watching the Olympics in London made me think of salmon — particularly those swimming around Washington state's Olympic Peninsula. Some years back, I took an Elderhostel (now called Road Scholar) trip hiking in that area. Since there is an educational component to all Elderhostel trips, I heard sad lectures on how the rivers used to be filled with salmon fighting their way upstream to spawn. But then came the dams, like the Elwha Dam and the Gline's Canyon Dam, built without fish ladders. Those amazing, brave, persistent athletes who were willing and able to painstakingly make their way upstream to spawn and die, were cut off. They could no longer go home to spawn.

The dams were built about a century ago to provide electricity for several mills in Port Angeles. Long after the mills closed, the dams remained, blocking the fish. It took many more years to commit to taking down the dams. The 108-foot-high Elwha Dam was blasted last September, and the Gline's Canyon Dam is going down next.

Fish are an integral part of a river's ecosystem. They provide food and make more baby fish, but they are also important to the entire river and soil ecosystem. So, the plan was to recolonize with hatchery-raised trout and coho salmon. But, as I learned during the Elderhostel, farmed fish are genetically much weaker and prone to disease. Many argued against recolonizing with hatchery fish. In fact, the Wild Fish Conservancy filed a lawsuit and an interim agreement was reached that stipulates that no more non-native hatchery steelhead will be put in the river — for at least the rest of this year.

As watchers checked what was happening in the river, lo and behold, they happily discovered some untagged, wild fish among the steelheads. First there was a male steelhead 5 pounds bigger and untagged. Then, a nest of eggs was found, and elsewhere an untagged male was seen spawning with a female. Wild salmon were seen milling around the base of the destroyed dam looking for a way upstream. Perhaps if we humans get out of the way, nature will repair the havoc we have wreaked in those rivers.

Have you ever watched fish going up a fish ladder? I stood there rooting for them as they jumped higher and higher, against all odds. It's an imposing, inspirational sight very much like the athletes we will be watching in the Olympics for the next few weeks. Rather than fame and fortune, they will, with some luck, reach their ancestral home, spawn and die. But they die with the satisfaction of a life well lived — and wild.

Comments? Email Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

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