The Hanford Reach is a 51-mile stretch of the Columbia River in Washington
State. The Columbia River flows over 1,200 miles from its origins in Canada to
its mouth at the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon. Along that route,
14 dams have been constructed to provide hydroelectric power and create
reservoirs for agricultural and urban uses. The Hanford Reach is the only
stretch of the river that remains free-flowing, i.e., unchecked by dams. In
2000, the U.S. government declared this section of river and the adjacent land
a national monument.
The reach itself, i.e., the 51-mile section of river, is open to motorized
and non-motorized watercraft. Land-based activities allowed under certain
conditions and in certain areas adjacent to the river include bicycling,
hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and fishing. No rockhounding or collecting
of any kind is permitted within the Monument and no camping or open fires are
allowed. The area protected by the Monument is home to 43 species of fish, 40 species
of mammals, 246 species of birds, and a wide diversity of amphibian, reptile,
and invertebrates, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, along
with the Department of Energy, manages the Monument.
Locals are conflicted about this chapter in their region's history. Nearby
Richland is home to businesses with names like "Atomic Auto
Body," and streets named "Proton Lane" and "Nuclear
Lane." The Richland High School athletic teams are called "The Bombers,"
to some citizens' horror, but to others' pride. While anti-war activists decry
the violence of the atomic bomb, many support its use as a means to end WWII,
saving more lives than it destroyed. Many others simply see the Hanford Site in
the context of a "factory" that employed their fathers and
grandfathers and provided their families with a livelihood not unlike an
adjacent mill or mine.
Things To Know
The best way to get an overall impression of the Reach is from the air or via
boat from one of the many boat launches just downstream from the Monument in
Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick, Washington. Boat launches on the Reach itself
are primitive and extremely limited due to the goal of protecting the ecosystem
and wildlife habitat.
To reach the scenic overlook at White Bluffs by automobile from western
Washington, take Interstate 90 east toward Spokane. After crossing the Columbia
River at Vantage, turn south on Highway 26. In one mile, turn right onto
Highway 243. After 14 miles, look for Road 24 SW; turn left on Road 24. Proceed
another 14 miles until Road 24 comes to a "T" at Highway 24; turn left. Follow
Highway 24 10 miles until you come upon the entrance to the White Bluffs Boat
Launch Road and the scenic overlook. This is a primitive site without
facilities or amenities (portable toilets are usually in place June through
October), but provides an excellent land-based view of the Reach.
Note that the entire Monument is closed from two hours after sunset to two
hours before sunrise.
Sally O'Neal is an eastern Washington native who lives, recreates, and
writes from her home just downstream of the Hanford Reach. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.