Touring the "River of a Million Horsepower"
By Emily Pollock
B.A. Candidate in Anthropology, 2013
Seattle City Light was voted into existence in 1911 by Seattle citizens as a way for the City of Seattle to compete with private companies for control and production of hydroelectric power. The department quickly established itself as a strong national symbol of municipal power and the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project in the North Cascades was main attraction. Tourism has always been a large part of this operation, but since 9/11 the public hasn’t been allowed inside the powerhouses and a few years ago the tours were retracted entirely due to budget deficits.
My job this summer is to create a new tour, one that will take visitors all the way from the company town of Newhalem to the magnificent Ross Dam, the third and highest Dam in the Project. The tours will not only focus on the history of the Skagit Project, but on the ecology and geology of the area, Seattle City Light’s commitment to the environment and fish populations, and the production of power on the “river of a million horsepower.” I have been busy sifting through historical records, meeting with ecologists, fisheries experts, archaeologists and engineers, as well as taking trips up to the Project itself! I spent a few days up in Newhalem (the Skagit company town) this week working out some logistical kinks of my tour- but the highlight was getting to observe the lighting experts trying to re-create the historical nighttime up-lighting of Ladder Creek Falls nestled behind Gorge powerhouse- and it was simply breathtaking. It’s juxtapositions of nature and human engineering like this that make this project to fun and worthwhile to work on- a daily reminder that some of our greatest innovations can not only harness Mother Nature to our benefit, but can also protect and celebrate it.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »