Tumwater Dam

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The Tumwater Dam is one of the more conspicuous sights to see when driving through Tumwater Canyon. You’ll see plenty of large rock formations, boulders in the river that you know were at one time perched high above, and forested areas. But you see very few man made features. That is until you see the Tumwater Dam.

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The Tumwater Dam is a legitimate historic attraction too. Started as a hydroelectic project in 1907 and completed in 1909, this small dam was at one time the largest hydroelectric project west of Niagara Falls. As you look around though you may wonder what the purpose of electricity in the middle of a forested canyon was. Built largely on what is now US Highway 2 which runs through the canyon was at one time a Great Northern Railway Company rail line that ran east to west, taking freight and passengers up and other the Cascade Mountains. At the time there was a three mile long tunnel under Stevens Pass that would fill up with dangerous smoke and gas due to the coal burning locomotives that ran through it. The solution to this problem was electric locomotives that would pull the trains through the tunnel and the electricity produced at the Tumwater Dam was what powered those locomotives. This practice ended in 1929 when the new eight mile long Cascade Tunnel opened.

Water stored behind Tumwater Dam traveled through a penstock pipeline just over two miles downstream to a small powerhouse that contained three generators. This project was closed in 1956, purchased by the Chelan County PUD, and the powerhouse was removed. The dam remains though and is quite a sight to see, especially in the spring when the water is running high.

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The Tumwater Dam has seen some modernization over the years, including the installation of an effective fish bypass that allows salmon and steelhead to return to the water of the upper Wenatchee River. It still largely appears how it did when it was built though and it is surrounded by the same classic scenery that is much loved by locals and travelers alike. The dam is equipped with historical markers and a nice viewing area that takes you close enough to fill the spray of the water. It’s definitely a place worth visiting.

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