History is often made when the little guy stands up against “The Man” and draws a line in the sand.
One such David-and-Goliath moment took place about 40 years ago, when Seattle City Light — under an agreement with the B.C. government — planned to raise the height of their existing Ross Dam by over 36 metres, making it the High Ross Dam. The project would have caused the Skagit River to back up well across the Canadian border, destroying a prime wilderness area.
Hope residents took up the cause, says local naturalist Kelley Pearce — but thanks to the potential destruction on the American side of Ross Lake, the issue went international and drew even more support.
Eventually, an energy purchasing deal for B.C. power put the high dam project off for another 80 years.
“With the old dam at full pool, it floods two square kilometres [200 hectares] on this side of the border,” says Pearce, “but the high dam would have flooded an extra 2,000 hectares of Canadian territory.
“It also would have flooded the Ruby Creek and the Big and Little Beaver valleys on the American side.
“It was an environmental battle that went on from 1969 to 1983,” says Pearce. “On the Canadian side, we had the ROSS ‘Run Out Skagit Spoilers’ committee, with Ken Faquharson, a Canadian hydro engineer, as their spokesperson.
“On the American side, they had the North Cascades Conservation Council.”
Tom Brucker, an American environmental lawyer, helped lead the lobbying from the U.S. side. Both he and Faquharson will be guest speakers this Sunday (Sept. 30) when the Hope Mountain Centre hosts a Rivers Day event at Ross Lake.
“The public is invited to paddle the scenic Skagit River and Ross Lake in celebration of B.C. Rivers Day and the saving of the Canadian Skagit from flooding,” says Pearce, program director for Hope Mountain Centre. “Paddlers of every fitness level and experience are invited to join a flotilla of boats that will explore the Skagit River and Ross Lake together.
“People can bring their own canoes or kayaks — or they can paddle in a voyageur canoe that will be provided,” says Pearce.
Compared to previous trips on the Fraser River, Pearce says this flat water event will not be nearly as technical or demanding.
“But part of the fun of these events is being out on the water with dozens of people. It’s like a carnival out there,” he enthuses.
“We’ll be exploring the mouth of the Skagit, where it enters Ross Lake,” he says. “I’ll be going up there this week to scout it out and see how far up the river we can go at this time of year. With the lack of rain and the draw-off, the reservoir could be pretty low.
“Fran Thomas was a lead voice in Hope, during the struggle,” adds Pearce. “She spoke at council meetings and wrote articles in the paper. She passed away recently but her husband Charlie is going to come up and send us off.”
Hope Mountain Centre is a non-profit society but needs to cover its expenses for the event — including lodging the guest speakers at the Skagit Motel. Lunch will be provided, so pre-registration is a must, to help in planning.
You can’t just show up at the lake.
Pearce says the rates run from $50 for adults and $20 for children, if they provide their own boats. For the voyageur canoe, it’s $90, all taxes included. Family and group rates are available.
After driving the 60 kilometres to the lake, participants will gather and sign in at International Point between 9-9:30 on Sunday morning. Pearce said some carpooling will be available and this can be discussed with Laverne Klassen at 604-869-1274.
Reservations can be made by phone — or on the group’s website at hopemountain.org. There’s further information about the event at the site and you might also want to do an online map search for an overhead view of the disputed lands and the already-massive lake that has formed behind the 1949 dam.