Blackwaters Portland: The Clackamas Kobuk Connection

Blackwaters Portland: The Clackamas Kobuk Connection

As we cast our lines on the Clackamas River, I was pretty sure we weren’t going to catch anything. It was late August in McIver State Park, about a 45-minute drive east of Portland. With just an hour or so before sunset we waded out below our knees in a raging torrent of fast-moving water with fly rods angling for steelhead trout.

In the company of local fishing expert Brian Chou, members of our expedition team and I descended upon the river, perhaps more in comradery than the likelihood of landing such an elusive species. Here we were able to reminisce over our memories of catching norther pike and grayling on the Kobuk River in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park. On the day following the premiere screening of our documentary film Blackwaters: Brotherhood in Wild, it seemed only natural that we would find ourselves together in community once again in the outdoors we all love. To quote Henry David Thoreau:

“Many men go fishing all of their
lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

 We didn’t catch a damn thing!

It just so happened that our friends at the Alaska Wilderness League had let us know that a major development was underway to formally protect the land water in another corner of our nation that is close to our hearts. The United States Department of the Interior announced this week that the last remaining lease sales being held in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have been canceled.

“Getting the leases that were issued as a result of the first lease sale revoked is a big first step and signals President Biden and Sec. Haaland’s commitment to protecting the Arctic Refuge,” wrote AWL Outreach Director Monica Scherer. “While they aim to strengthen protections for 13 million acres of already designated special areas, they also pave the way for the addition of new areas of the NPRA (National Petroleum Reserve Alaska) to receive special area protection.”

This announcement means that vast tracks of public land in the Alaskan Arctic will not be subjected to the devasting impacts of oil and gas drilling. In the middle of the birthing grounds and migratory pathways of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, this wilderness area is known by the Gwich’in People as “the sacred place where life begins.” This beautiful landscape is not only at risk from the physical scars left behind by the harmful practices of energy extraction, it is also more adversely affected by climate change than anywhere else in the country. The temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise at three times the global annual average.

“Cancellation of these leases is a step to rectify attempted violence against our people, the animals and sacred land,” read a statement from the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The leases were economically infeasible, threatened the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich’in way of life, and if developed would have added to the already deteriorating climate in the Arctic and the world over.”

BlackWaters fishing the Clackamas in Oregon
From left to right Brian Chou, Jahmicah Dawes, Devin Cat, Thurman Hogan III, James Edward Mills
Photo by Dudley Edmondson
BlackWaters fishing the Clackamas in Oregon From left to right Brian Chou, Jahmicah Dawes, Devin Cat, Thurman Hogan III, James Edward Mills Photo by Dudley Edmondson

Portland, Oregon is a long way from the Kobuk River in Alaska. But the Clackamas River is no less at risk from the dangers of climate change and all forms of environmental degradation.  There is indeed a connection between the Clackamas and the Kobuk. It is our intention to make a direct connection between the wilderness areas on the remote edges of our continent and the urban enclaves of North America. Though our film is set in the second least visited of all 62 terrestrial park sites in the system (after American Samoa), we want the audiences who see our story to understand that they too can have a relationship with the natural world that can be expressed through physical activity on federally protected public land. Whether you like to fish, hike, backcountry ski, rock climb, mountain bike, bird watch or picnic, there is a place outside for everyone.

Blackwaters crew from left: Dudley Edmondson, Alex Bailey, James Edward Mills, Thurman Hogan III, Nicholas Brooks
Blackwaters crew from left: Dudley Edmondson, Alex Bailey, James Edward Mills, Thurman Hogan III, Nicholas Brooks

Thanks to support of Chad Brown and his nonprofit organizations Soul River Inc. and Love Is King, our expedition team had the rare opportunity to visit this endangered space, to interact with its people and learn the valuable lessons of its natural heritage. It is our hope that viewers of “Blackwaters” will realize that the outdoors is all around us. In the coming weeks we will be hosting other live film screening events in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Madison Nelson Institute. Our teammate Nicholas Brooks of creator of Outdoor Beer & Gear will share our story in Atlanta, Georgia on September 29th and 30th. Jahmicah Dawes, co-owner of Slim Pickin’s Outfitters in Stephenville, Texas will bring the film to his community on October 14th and 15th. And early next year Alex Bailey, founder of Black Outside is our host in San Antonio on January 13th & 14th, 2024.

You don’t necessarily have to visit a national park thousands of miles away from your home. There are natural areas well within reach of where we live, work and play. The plants, animals, and free flowing rivers wherever you are will greatly benefit from your efforts to protect them.

Cover photo: The Blackwaters Team on the Kobuk River in Gates of the Arctic National Park From left: James Edward Mills, Jahmicah Dawes, Chad Brown, Axe the service dog, Alex Bailey and Nicholas Brooks

Click the logo for branded merchandise from Blackwaters
Click the logo for branded merchandise from Blackwaters

The Blackwaters Film Project was produced in cooperation with the Alaska Wilderness League, The National Park Service and the National Park Conservation Association, with support from Together Outdoors

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