What is the REACH?
It’s a question we get all the time: what does REACH stand for?
It’s actually not an acronym, but if it was, it might stand for River Education At the Columbia and Hanford. Or Really Especially Awesome Cool History.
“Reach” is a word with many definitions, and we recently decided to put our favorite one on the wall, visible when you first enter the museum.
In other words, a reach is a section of river that we think is important. The Hanford Reach of the Columbia River is the last undammed or free-running portion of this great river. Dams provide us with clean energy, flood control, and irrigation water, but the Hanford Reach is one that will never be dammed up.
On June 9th 2000, President Bill Clinton declared 303 square miles surrounding the Hanford Site a national monument, including the reach of the river flowing through it. Back in 1943, the site was chosen for the top-secret Manhattan Project because of the river’s cool water, but also its relative remoteness from major urban areas. There were a couple of small towns in the area – White Bluffs and Hanford – plus farms and orchards serviced by the railroad. The Yakama, Wanapum, and other tribes lived there and fished the river. All were forced out when construction began on the first reactor.
But wild areas around the Hanford development have been protected, originally as a buffer to keep the dangerous work of plutonium finishing away from the public, and now as a unique historic landmark and wilderness preserve. Plans for a dam in the Hanford Reach began in the 1960s and again in the late 1970s, but were never realized. It was determined that the flooding of this last wild stretch of the Columbia would bring water too close to nuclear reactors and ground contaminated by waste leaking from buried tanks.
Though public access is limited to all but a few areas of the Hanford Reach National Monument, its preservation is a step towards preserving water quality in the river, and has provided a habitat for a great diversity of wildlife, including rare plants, endangered salmon and trout, and endemic species of invertebrates. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the lands, in partnership with The U.S. Department of Energy, and has information about the wildlife and public access on their website and at their office in Burbank, Washington.
All the varied stories at The REACH Museum are tied together by one thing, the Columbia River that flows past it. For millions of years, the Columbia has supported life within its banks and beyond. The REACH Museum has a big job to do, bringing the many aspects of the river’s geology, human history, and ecology to life. We appreciate your visit to our website, and we hope you can visit the museum’s exhibits to learn more about this unique and important part of the world.