Check out the salmon as they return to Piper’s Creek

It’s the time of year when salmon return to our rivers and streams to spawn, and Piper’s Creek at Carkeek Park is having a celebration to welcome them home. On Friday, Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. they’ll have naturalists on hand to answer questions about salmon, and will also have treats, warm drinks, music and kids activities to welcome the salmon home.

The salmon in Pipers Creek are chum salmon, which were a gift to Seattle from the Suquamish Tribe for the Piper’s Creek salmon stock supplementation program, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation. After two to five years at sea, they are now returning as 10-22 pound adult fish, ready to spawn. Seattle Parks says the returning salmon include fish released through the stock supplementation program and possibly descendants of fish that spawned naturally in the creek. Up to 600 salmon return to Piper’s Creek between October and December.

As the salmon continue to return to Piper’s Creek, Salmon Stewards will be on hand each Saturday and Sunday through December 9 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to talk about the salmon life-cycle. Salmon Stewards are part of a program run by Seattle Parks and Restore our Waters program from Seattle Public Utilities.

Here’s a brief history of Piper’s Creek and the salmon project, from Seattle Parks:

Piper’s Creek has a long and spotted history with salmon. Historically the creek and its tributaries most likely supported runs of steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, and coho salmon. In 1893, the Great Northern Railroad was built over Pipers Creek, and in 1906 the railroad built a rock seawall and placed the creek in a culvert under the tracks. The last of the virgin timber in the watershed was logged in 1921. Development in the watershed also contributed to water quality and habitat degradation and in 1927, local residents reported seeing the last pair of spawning salmon in the creek.

Fortunately, in 1929 much of the Piper’s Creek watershed became Carkeek Park. This preserved the land surrounding Pipers Creek (currently 223 acres). The park land, the existing open spaces, nearby back yards and large trees act as buffers to help protect the creek and its spring-fed tributary system. Though the historical salmon populations vanished, the creek system has continued to provide habitat for an ancestral, resident cutthroat trout population.

Because of the potential for salmon production in the watershed, 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 Pipers Creek and eggs for local schools to raise.

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 approximately 25 elementary schools that raise and release their salmon into the imprint pond at Carkeek Park each spring as an activity of the Salmon in the Schools Program. The young chum are held in the pond under the care of diligent volunteers and fed for about three weeks to imprint them to the “smell” of the creek system, which helps them return as adults to spawn.

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