Get Off My River: Inside the Battle to Keep the Skykomish Wild

The South Fork of the Skykomish, just above Sunset Falls. Photo: Mary Catherine O'Connor

When I lived for a short time in Index, Washington, a climbing and boating hotspot on the Skykomish River in the north central Cascades, it felt like equal parts Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. But despite its eccentric residents and quirky vibe, Index is like Mayberry compared to the South Fork of the Skykomish, a sprawling community of river cabins and trailers, near where the south and north forks of the river merge.

For me, the South Fork was shrouded in mystery and clouds (literally, usually). The residents, I was told, tended to be fiercely libertarian. I had always gotten a kind of Get Off My Land vibe from the area, but that was around 15 years ago. Maybe things had changed? So when I found out that the local utility district wants to build a small hydropower dam on the river, and that a friend of mine has a family cabin on the South Fork, I saw a chance to both report on the dam proposal and to delve into that, um, intriguing community.

Here is the soundbite version of what I learned: the dam might just happen—and it could really alter the river—and the people of the South Fork are very nice, articulate and welcoming ... except for the ones who aren't.

Everything seemed quite familiar as I pulled off Highway 2, past the trailhead for Lake Serene, and saw the first of many No Trespassing signs posted at the mouth of each driveway and side road along the washboard dirt road that winds along the river. With the car windows down, I could hear the roar of Sunset Falls as soon as it came into view. The Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) hopes to convert the power of that Cascadian water into electrons.

Filed To: Politics, Science, Water Activities, Paddling

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