Exploring the mountains and rivers of the Inland Northwest isn’t just a part of the regional lifestyle —it’s also a walk through history.
The signs of that history aren’t apparent to everyone. But they are to Tony Lewis. From his days teaching physical geography at Louisiana State University, he’s been fascinated by the forces that give maps their distinctive features. It’s no wonder, then, that he’s found like-minded peers at the Ice Age Floods Institute. For the past seven years, Lewis has served as an institute chapter president, educating the public on how the floods of the distant past shape our lives today.
“A lot of people who come [to my presentations] have no idea about our local landscape and how they were formed and modified by the Ice Age,” Lewis said.
Perhaps more than any other event of the distant past, the Ice Age floods made the Northwest. Lewis intends to explain exactly how when he gives a talk in Thompson Falls. Set for 7 p.m., March 12, at the Clark Fork Valley Elks Lodge, the presentation will break down how Ice Age floods shaped the modern world.
It promises to be a discussion relevant to everyone in western Montana and northern Idaho. At the heart of the story is Lake Missoula, a glacial lake that existed more than 13,000 years ago. More than 2,000 feet deep and 3,000 square miles in size, the lake formed from huge ice dams that spanned the Sandpoint-Clark Fork area. When those dams failed in a series of collapses, that lake water escapes in floods of enormous force. Those floodwaters shaped the world we know today.
At his presentation, Lewis plans to break down the conditions that made the Ice Age floods possible. He’ll also show the evidence scientists use to draw their conclusions, as well as the impact the floods still have today. For instance, the aquifers that support communities across the Inland Northwest exist thanks to those floods. In many cases, local livelihoods are possible thanks to those prehistoric events.
“All the lakes that we have around here extending into Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Hayden are because of Ice Age deposits,” Lewis said.
“We would live in a much different place without them,” he added.
The Thompson Falls presentation is a partnership with Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, which is sponsoring the event. The Ice Age floods shaped the wild places that FSPW supporters work to steward and protect. For Lewis, it’s one of the reasons he’s excited to share this prehistoric story. Understanding the natural world has a way of putting things in perspective, he said.
“I’m a proselytizer on these things,” he added.