The Elwha River

Elwha River Restoration

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In four interactive online sessions educators support students’ understanding of the complex story of the Elwha River restoration and connect them to Olympic National Park. Students will learn about the power of science and the success of civic engagement and explore their own curiosities about the Elwha. 

Join our exploration of what makes Olympic National Park such a special place! Study one of the biggest dam removals in history by investigating how a river changes when it’s dammed. Explore the ecology of the Elwha River and how it was transformed by the activism of the Lower Elwha Klallam people, helpful scientists and many BIG explosions. Over four sessions, students observe changes rippling through the Elwha’s ecosystem, find excitement in the story of one of the largest environmental restoration projects in human history and design an investigation based on their understanding of river processes. Led by two dynamic educators, students will have the opportunity to connect with their peers, themselves and the world around them, all while gaining a thorough understanding of the Elwha River.

Program Format

Two educators lead each 40- to 60-minute session as presenter and host using a video conference platform such as Zoom. Attending teachers participate as chaperones who observe and assist students as needed. Interactive technology tools may include Google Earth, Prezi, Jamboards, breakout sessions and participant polls.

Session 1: Orientation & Community Building 40- to 60-minute live session
This lesson sets students up for success! Meet our educators, establish community agreements and gain an understanding of how our educational platforms work. Students will engage in team-building activities that help to create a fun and safe learning space to share and interact for future lessons. Students will be introduced to what makes a river special and  participate in a land acknowledgement of the traditional tribes of the Elwha River. 

Session 2: What does a river provide? What happens when it's dammed? 40- to 60-minute live session
These guiding questions initiate the journey into an exploration of the Elwha River watershed, home to the Klallam people for thousands of years. Students learn how the Elwha was drastically altered in the early 1900s when it became a source of hydroelectric power for settler communities on the Olympic Peninsula. Students will take their guiding questions from this session into Session 3 when they explore the largest dam deconstruction in U.S. history.

Session 3: What happens when a river runs free? 40- to 60-minute live session 
After learning how river processes have been altered by the former dams and resulting reservoirs, students consider how the practices of science and engineering are used by scientists supporting the Elwha’s restoration. Students will explore how the dynamic river and its watershed is rebounding after dam removal. Using past and current research, students will see the positive and challenging impacts of the dam removal process. 

Session 4: Design an Investigation 40- to 60-minute live session
Students design an investigation based on their understanding of previous and current investigations related to the Elwha River restoration. Educators ask, “if you were given all the resources and time to study one thing on the Elwha what would it be?” Students are challenged to consider the impacts of humans on this watershed and to determine ways to use their voices to become stewards of their community.


Students will:

  • Understand the unique ecosystems, cultural features and natural history of Olympic National Park
  • Learn about the natural and cultural history of the Elwha River Watershed, including salmon ecological and Klallam perspectives
  • Explore impacts of dam construction and removal on the Elwha Watershed
  • Explore research from scientists regarding dam removal and revegetation efforts, including impacts on sediment, salmon and riparian zones
  • Engage in the scientific processes of inquiry by developing testable questions

NGSS Standards

  • 5-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
  • MS-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy and Dynamics: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
  • MS-ESS3-3 Earth and Human Activity: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas: LS2 Ecosystems; ESS3 Earth and Human Activity; ETS1, 2 and 3 Engineering Design
  • Science Practices: Asking Questions and Defining Problems; Using Models; Planning Investigations; Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Constructing Explanations; Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.
  • Crosscutting Concepts: Systems and System Models; Patterns; Cause and Effect 

Materials needed

Access to a computer, tablet or other online learning compatible device. Paper, pencil or something to write with. 

Adult Expectations

At least one teacher will be present throughout each live online session. Other adults may attend by invitation from the teacher or group coordinator. All attending adults must complete NatureBridge’s Participant Registration Form in advance of the session. 

It is the responsibility of attending adults to support student learning and safety during large group instruction and small breakout sessions by following the expectations listed below. 

  • Support students in staying on task. 
  • Address discipline concerns, while allowing students to be engaged and answer questions on their own. 
  • Demonstrate a positive attitude and model inclusive behavior.
  • Communicate with the group’s NatureBridge educator about the educational plan and offer constructive feedback when appropriate.

Schedule this Program

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