Native youths train with Aspen-based nonprofit to be the first to kayak the Klamath River after dam removal
The largest dam-removal and river-restoration project in history was approved last month for the Klamath River along the California-Oregon border.
U.S. regulators approved the plan to demolish four of the six hydroelectric dams on the river by 2024 in order to open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat and sacred lands.
Environmentalists and local tribes who rely on the Klamath and its salmon have been working for years to have the dams removed — and a group of native youths are training with Aspen-based nonprofit Ríos to Rivers to be the first to kayak down the free-flowing river.
The Ríos to Rivers’ youth expedition is called Paddle Tribal Waters.
Weston Boyles, who was born and raised in Aspen, founded the environmental justice organization, which works with Indigenous youths to protect river basins around the world.
“Dams have a tremendous impact on our climate, our ecosystems and the displacement of Indigenous people,” Weston said in a recent interview at COP27 in Egypt. “So, keeping rivers free flowing, allowing the qualities that rivers have — which are carbon sinks that support our climate having less carbon and less methane in it — is critically important.”
Boyles is launching the Paddle Tribal Waters project with Ríos to Rivers Chief Storyteller Paul Robert Wolf Wilson, as well as filmmaker and professional whitewater kayaker Rush Sturges.
Wilson, a Klamath and Modoc tribal member from the headwaters of the Klamath River, said the project was born out of the idea that there weren’t enough Indigenous whitewater paddlers on local rivers.
“This program offers a developed curriculum specialized for beginning paddlers while also getting them access to advocacy training and storytelling roles,” he said in a recent news release announcing the project.
Wilson and Sturges last week released a short film documenting the launch of Paddle Tribal Waters.
They will also be co-directing a longer documentary about the first descent on the Klamath River after the dams come down.
Sturges also grew up near the Klamath River.
“In some ways, the story of the Klamath dam removal is a look into the future,” he said in the news release. “These dams have a finite existence and are not a long-term solution. I wanted to explore my home river and the depth of its history, its stewards, its challenges and its healing.”
Sturges, Wilson and Boyles talked with Aspen Public Radio about the film and the Paddle Tribal Waters project on Monday.
You can listen to the conversation in the audio story above.