By Michael Garrity, American Rivers
One of my goals this summer was to get to know the Teanaway River watershed in the upper Yakima Basin a bit better. I have backpacked extensively in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness headwaters of the Cle Elum drainage, including the Waptus, Cooper, and Cle Elum rivers, since I was a little kid. Yet aside from a little bit of trout fishing, a little bit of hiking and a lot of driving on Highway 97 to visit my folks in Wenatchee, I hadn’t been in the Teanaway much.
I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten out in the Teanaway for four different day trips this summer – two hikes, a fly over and a kayak float, with hopefully more to come. These trips confirmed my impressions of the Teanaway from the little bit of exploration I’d already done and what I’d heard from friends and colleagues – it’s a vast, beautiful and unique landscape that is teetering precariously between restoration and unsustainable development.
On my hikes to Esmerelda/Esmeralda Basin (the maps and hiking guides can’t seem to agree on the spelling) and Navaho Pass, much of which is recommended for wilderness designation by the Forest Service and is being considered for wilderness in the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, I was struck by three things:
- This was an even bigger snow year than I thought – even on the east slope of the Cascades – lots of snow and lots of runoff that is just now melting/slowing down;
- The Teanaway country’s stark beauty, made a bit less stark by all the wildflowers and some surprisingly big, old Douglas firs growing at atypically high elevations; and
- The vastness of the landscape. It’s bigger than I imagined, which I suppose is one reason why it’s such great elk and wolf habitat.
Between the two hikes, I floated the lower Teanaway River on inflatable kayaks with Cynthia Wilkerson of The Wilderness Society and Jill Wasberg of American Rivers.
I was struck by the relatively small amount of water in the Teanaway even in this big water year. Given the rushing streams in the headwaters, one would expect more. In addition to highlighting the need for more water conservation on local farms, which the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan will help fund, this shows the need for a couple of actions that would be made possible by buying private Teanaway land bordering the river – protecting existing flows and restoring the river and its floodplain.
Protecting the flows and restoring the surrounding land will only help the salmon and steelhead that live in these waters thrive. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries department, the Teanaway River watershed may be the most critical place to restore steelhead in the entire Yakima Basin, and restoring steelhead there would be a big contributor to the recovery of the entire mid-Columbia steelhead population.
In other words, the future of the Teanaway is in many ways the future of the rest of the Yakima Basin – either we save it and restore it now or the opportunity will pass us by.