We made our way back to Klamath, CA again this year. It has been a lifelong annual trek for my husband who is from the Yurok tribe. He spent his summers there as a boy and teen at their family run, “Dad’s Camp” – a long span of beach where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean.
Dad’s Camp was acclaimed up and down the coast for the huge runs of chinook salmon – and his grandmother’s famous blackberry pies.
The resort/campground owned by the Williams family was a summer home to hundreds of family members, friends, and visiting fisherman for decades until the river changed and wiped the campground out.
Up until a few years ago, we camped on the beach with enough extended family to ward off bears and mountain lions. There is nothing like the rest you get in a tent on the beach as the rhythm of the waves lulls you to sleep.
When the patriarch of our group passed away, people scattered, and we moved to the river. Beautiful and peaceful in its own right – but different.
All things change in time – but this year saw the greatest. A record low number of salmon were forecast to return to spawn this fall. Despite the winter rains, five years of drought and restricted flows due to upriver dams had a devastating impact. The lowered and warmer water birthed a deadly parasite that infected up to 90 percent of the juvenile salmon in the river while warm ocean conditions reduced the fish’s usual food sources.
With severe catch limits in place, fishing was curtailed about as quickly as it started. The fisherman who once lined both banks, battling shoulder-to-shoulder were replaced by empty beach, seals, and pelicans.
At least their catch was good.
In between meals, the seals sunbathed – finally at peace on their beach as nature intended.
The emptiness was a stark and sad reminder of our man-made impact on this magnificent place my husband once called home.
We found solace among the redwoods that still tower. Such majesty.
There is hope for the Klamath salmon. The owner of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath has applied to remove them by 2020 which may improve the river’s year-round flow. But we are unlikely to return as a family to our beloved camping spot on the beach.
We hold those memories in our hearts. With a few small mementos that carry the sound of rolling waves.
Chperwerksek: “I remember.”