BC Hydro created a recreational site on the far side, at the very foot of the dam: spacious campsites, outhouses, open fields, a boat launch. When I looked over the dam in the summer, it was full, every campsite occupied, day users parked in the fields. I didn't go down.
This week, it looked empty and I drove down to explore.
|Water races out of the spillway, foaming and splashing, hurries down a narrow channel, turns a corner and settles down, forming a serene lagoon. Here, the water reaches that first corner.|
|And just around the bend, a quiet little lake.|
|All the way around the edge of the campsite, an alternate spillway. The dam end is rocky and dry at the moment; the water is still. In the distance, white ducks dive for their supper.|
|One of the two Canada geese.|
|Back along the active spillway, from the first campsite. Ghostly winter branches warmed by the light on rosy catkins.|
|Directly below the dam, the setting sun prisms across the top, tinting the water green, pink, cool blue.|
|Sign from the information area.|
Text of sign: You are standing below the largest hydroelectric dam on Vancouver Island. Strathcona Dam is part of the Campbell River Hydroelectric System which includes the Ladore and John Hart developments and the Salmon River, Heber River, and Quinsam River diversions.
Strathcona was the last dam completed on the Campbell River Development project. This 53 meter high earth-filled dam created Upper Campbell Lake, a 48 kilometer long reservoir for water storage. The water that flows through this dam will drop over 200 meters, passing through three generating stations, Strathcona, Ladore and John Hart, before it reaches the ocean. As you drive towards Campbell River, you will pass near two other reservoirs, Lower Campbell Lake created by Ladore Dam and John Hart Reservoir created by John Hart dam. This major project was started in 1945 and took over 13 years to complete.
|Map of campground and spillway channels, from info centre. With shadows of overhead cables and towers.|
|Map of the three dams. Campsite shown just beneath the first dam. The road crosses the dam at the top, re-crosses at the base, between the spillway control building and the dam.|
Here and there, spotted around the campsites and the recreation areas are signs: DANGER! KEEP OUT! SIRENS!. The danger, I understand, is only on the water and the shores of the spillway; at times, a large volume of water is released, and the current could be lethal. The sirens are to warn people who have ventured into the channels. The land is safe.
I would have trouble sleeping there, though. A daytime, very much alert, awake visit is enough for me.