Dam removal is a hot topic in the outdoors industry. In areas all across the country, city, state, and federal officials are mulling over the perceived benefits of dams and asking hard questions about their future. A central question in all of these discussions is how the area will make-up for the economic losses created by destroying the dam, namely revenue generated from the power output of the dams. One of the biggest ways to make up for that money is the increase in outdoor recreation opportunities.
Successful dam removal means that a healthy river will return and, with that, a healthy fish population returning to the river to spawn. Dams can return hundreds of miles of river to anglers. While it is not yet known how quickly fish return to restored rivers, it is believed that, over time, population numbers have the capacity to reach 100% of what they were before the dam was put in place.
When rivers are restored, they significantly impact the environment around them. Adding more water creates healthier vegetation and better habitats for keystone wildlife species, not to mention a greater source of fresh water for larger species to access. The result is a healthier wildlife community. Whether you’re a birder, photographer or simple nature buff, removing dams means huge boosts to the surrounding wildlife population and those who choose to spend their time viewing them.
Kayaking can be seen as a double-edged sword. For one thing, dams obviously create lakes and those lakes are usually decent for kayaking. If an area has lots of river systems already for white water kayakers, then removing a dam may not make a big difference for that niche of outdoor recreation. More important to note is that it is merely altering the type of recreation already available, not taking away opportunities, while the presence of a dam may disrupt some opportunities.
Much like kayaking, some would argue that camping near a lake is just as valuable as camping near a river and that is true. However, a healthy river that is spans a hundred miles creates countless more camping opportunities than a lake does, whose waterfront options are severely limited by the size of the lake itself. Furthermore, any camping spots on lakes typically have to be flattened and developed because man-made lakes usually fill up in the presence of steep hills. On the other hand, river campsites are more likely to exist on already flat land where less damage to the environment is done to create those valuable campsites and campgrounds.
Hiking opportunities also increase, for many of the same reasons as campsites. More pristine land is created by healthy rivers which means there are more beautiful places to hike. Also, a long river means that hikers also have continued access to supplies of fresh water, which makes hiking in that area more valuable and more accessible.