Being able to watch a salmon run is an incredible benefit of living in the Pacific Northwest.
November and early December is the time to experience Pacific salmon in an urban stream.
In 1980, volunteers from Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project began a salmon enhancement project in Piper’s Creek in partnership with the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). Today the Suquamish Tribe’s Grover’s Creek Hatchery provides chum salmon as fingerlings for release into Piper’s Creek and eggs for local schools to raise.
Carkeek Park’s chum salmon will return to Piper’s Creek next month, which means it’s time to visit the Salmon Stations. Drop-in salmon stations with trained Salmon Stewards are set up from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 – Dec. 6, to facilitate observations of the salmon and to give out tips on how to help perpetuate these runs. No need to sign up. Just come to the lower meadow at Carkeek Park and look for the Salmon Stewards in the blue vests.
“Carkeek Park (Piper’s Creek) is special because it has a long history of community members being involved in the health of humans and wildlife in the area,” Salmon Steward Anne Wang-Annanie said. “The stocked chum salmon run and the Salmon Stewards welcome visitors to come learn about these amazing fish. Visitors can also learn about our role in their health and their role in our community’s health.”
The Salmon Stewards Program is a community volunteer program funded and collaboratively run by Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) Protect Our Waters program, the Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project and Seattle Parks and Recreation.
About 70,000 chum fingerlings are first introduced into the Les Malmgren imprinting pond at Carkeek Park each winter, and 5,000 additional eggs are provided to elementary schools that raise and release their salmon into the imprint pond at Carkeek Park each spring. An additional 20,000 salmon eggs are now raised in a small egg incubator beside the imprint pond as well. The young chum are held in the pond under the care of diligent volunteers and fed for about three to four weeks to imprint them to the “smell” of the creek system, which helps them return as adults to spawn.
After two to five years at sea, the chum salmon return to Piper’s Creek as spawning fish, ready to begin the cycle anew. Anywhere from 60-600 salmon pass through Piper’s Creek every fall.
Alison Leigh Lilly became a salmon steward four years ago with her husband when they moved to the Pacific Northwest.
“For me, volunteering is partly about having the chance to spend time roaming, sharing my passion for the natural world with others and getting them excited about the ways they can connect with nature and live more sustainably and responsibly in their own everyday lives,” Leigh said. “Seeing the salmon return to Carkeek every year is a powerful experience of interconnection — there are few things more powerful than being able to witness death and the beginnings of new life right in front of you. … That’s what I try to communicate with the folks who come out to see the salmon each year. If they can feel that connection, I think that stays with them for a long time to come.”