The upper Green River is so nice that it provides drinking water for Tacoma. The river is closed in Tacoma’s section to keep the water clean, and sadly I don’t get to swim there. This 23 mile section of the river includes the large Howard Hanson dam (235 feet tall) and reservoir.
Swim Duwamish starts again near Kanaskat-Palmer State park, downstream of the 23 mile closed area. Scouting the river before swimming I find a good sign—a bobcat patrolling the riverbank.
I was disappointed to skip part of the river, but seeing the bobcat is a nice reward that leads me to forget about what I’m missing.
The river is bigger here with deeper pools and more large fish. There are some whitewater sections that are fun for rafting and kayaking when winter rains fill the river and the water flows faster and higher. But during this dry year the river has dropped to low flow levels more typical of August, so the rapids are small and slow. Still, in order to stay safe, I avoid the whitewater by swimming the edge or walking around the rapids.
Kanaskat-Palmer State Park is a great place to swim. Today I saw a magnificent adult steelhead, maybe a 10 pound fish. Here’s a picture, make sure to look for it in the video along with lots of large whitefish.
The bedrock banks, boulders, and tumbling water here make for an especially fun swim.The variety is interesting and makes lots of nice fish habitat.
I saw my first person swimming today in the cool 57 degree water, although he didn’t stay in very long.Further downstream in the warmer water I know I’ll see a lot more people getting wet, especially if this heat wave continues.
There is a swarm of river insects emerging from the water and triggering a fish feeding frenzy. Trout and young salmon are literally jumping out of the water chasing the mayflies as they come bursting out of the water. These mayflies are a sign of clean water, they can’t live where the water is polluted. They spend most of their lives underwater clinging to rocks and then “hatch” out of their larval stage to become flying adults that do nothing but mate and lay their eggs back in the water.
The river is so clean here that the toxic pollution in the Duwamish seems like a very distant problem. Yet this water is the same water that will soon make it downstream to the Lower Duwamish. The steelhead in the picture above started its life here in the Green River, migrated downstream to the ocean to live for 1-3 years, and then swam through the Duwamish again to get home to spawn. Our steelhead knows the rivers are connected.
It’s time to get out when I reach the last raft takeout at the downstream end of the park.Too bad, I’d like to go deeper into the gorge but it’s dangerous for swimming and today is not the day.