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Columbia paddlers pull ashore in Castlegar
Following the route that salmon have taken for centuries, an ambitious and determined group of paddlers headed upstream at the mouth of the Columbia River on August 2.
Leaving Astoria, Oregon, the mariners intended to make it to the headwaters of the river. By October 6 they'd made it almost to the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers after the toughest leg of the journey to that point – the stretch from Genelle to Castlegar.
"We're paddling the historic route of the salmon that used to travel from the ocean 1,243 miles up to Canal Flats," said spokesperson Adam Wicks-Arshack prior to heading for a good meal and a well-deserved rest before continuing the next morning for Lower Arrow Lake. "We're paying tribute to the salmon and trying to figure out ways to get them back, raising awareness that it's something that's possible."
The voyagers had lined up some help for the particularly tough stretch of water, as Wicks-Arshack, a resident of Index, Washington, explained.
"We were honoured to paddle with Virgil Seymour and some Sinixt youth from Inchelium (Washington) who carved that canoe." Wicks-Arshack described a 1,000 pound canoe which had reached the end of it's journey, to be spelled off by lighter, shallower draft vessel for the miles still ahead. "For them to paddle here was the highlight of our trip." Seymour echoed the feelings of appreciation for the experience.
"I just want to say that I was very proud that I took part in this," he said from the water's edge. "I think the land was starving for some Sinixt paddling back up in their territory, and I'm very honoured to be a part of that."
"Right now everything's coming together so well with the Columbia River Treaty," related Wicks-Arshack. "It's really the perfect time to start getting the public going. Because there's a lot of stuff going on behind closed doors with politicians, but we need the public to start pushing, making their voice heard that we want the salmon back."
A strong effort lies ahead before success can be claimed in this initiative, and Wicks-Arshack personifies the optimism and dedication that can make it happen.
"We've talked to thousands of people," Wicks-Arshack elaborated. "Nobody is against having salmon... everyone wants the salmon back."
The fish themselves, as the paddler implied, are ready, willing and able to to their part when agreements are complete and steps are taken to make suitable alterations to a number of dams along the length of the Columbia.
"If the fish ladder is built at Chief Joseph (dam) and Grand Coulee," Wicks-Arshack concluded, "Canadians will have salmon here at Castlegar."
The expedition has no rigid timetable to follow and will simply press ahead until weather dictates otherwise. If stopped short of their goal, they may resume at a later date.
Pictured below: Part of the welcoming reception at Castlegar's Twin rivers Park on Oct. 6.