Saving the Salmonby Roger Larsen
Huron Daily Plainsman, July 26, 2006
With a week to go before he embarks on a daunting mission he hopes will open the eyes and hearts of Americans to the plight of salmon in the Pacific Northwest, Bill Erickson has had trouble falling asleep. Or, when he does, he jolts awake in the middle of the night.
He's not nervous about kayaking 900 miles on the Salmon, Snake and Columbia river systems in the next two months. Instead, his mind races with countless thoughts about the journey.
"I keep waking up and writing ideas down," the 30-year-old Huron High School graduate said last week as he made final preparations.
"Definitely, I'll be taking a deep sigh of relief when I push off from shore," Erickson said.
Twelve springs ago, he stood on a Huron Arena stage as president of the Class of 1994 and urged his fellow graduates to find and pursue their dreams.
He begins one of his own Aug. 7 at the headwaters of the Salmon River in Stanley, Idaho.
Last week, he was in Lewiston, Idaho, putting the final touches on his plans. He has lined up sponsors to supply his gear and cover his expenses. At the time of a mid-week phone conversation, he was short two pieces of equipment, but expected them to arrive shortly.
Those who would like to help him cover camping and food costs can donate by going to www.wildsalmon.org and hitting the "donate" button. Contributors are asked to make sure to click the button on the Salmon to the Sea expedition.
"It's time to go and the final details are getting taken care of," Erickson said. "I'm confident and excited about the sponsors. I certainly wouldn't be doing it without them."
One sponsor has donated a satellite phone. He will also be doing a radio show out of Salt Lake City every Saturday morning of the trip.
He's also making sure he has the logistics down. Between the start and finish, he'll have to deal with eight dams.
"I'm not trying to overdo it," Erickson said. "It's going to be a long trip. I need to make it to the end."
He plans to portage around six of the dams, but the last one, just upstream from Portland, would have been a major challenge without help from a local organization.
A sport fishermen's group in that area is auctioning off the privilege of escorting Erickson through the locks.
"Rather than having to make a seven-mile walk around that one, I'll just get on a boat and go through the locks with them," he said.
Erickson hopes to reach his ocean destination about Sept. 27 or 28.
The Plainsman first reported on his long kayaking adventure last March.
His family moved from Hot Springs to Huron in 1988. Bill and his sister, LeAnn, went to middle school and high school in Huron. Their mother, Nancy, now lives in Gilbert, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. Their father, Warren, died in 1993.
Erickson works for Outdoor Adventure River Specialists-Dories based in Angels Camp, Calif. During the summer, he leads people on multi-day raft and dory trips.
He is hoping his trip will put the spotlight on an area of the country where salmon advocates are fighting dams, fish hatcheries and streamside erosion. They hope to change policy, remove dams and return wild salmon and steelhead to sustainable levels.
His two biggest fans will be his mother and his new wife; they were married in June and will see him off before she heads to Germany on a Fullbright Scholarship. He plans to join her after his commitments have been fulfilled in December.
Since news of his trip became public, he has received a lot of encouragement from people who believe he is doing something that can make a difference.
"It's been really a nice thing to hear from folks I haven't heard from, including a cousin after 15 years," Erickson said.
Reporters, local fishermen and rafters will also join him as he pushes off from shore near the remnants of the Sunbeam Dam on the upper stretches of the Salmon River.
Built in the early 1900s, it was blown up in 1934 to restore the salmon runs above it, Erickson said.
Pieces of the dam remain.
"It's kind of fitting that years ago they realized that they screwed up by putting dams in and not thinking about the salmon about the dam," he said.
As he pursues a dream, Erickson will be thinking about the salmon. He'll be thinking about them for 900 miles.
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