Carkeek Park’s chum salmon have returned to Pipers Creek. Those chum are a gift to the people of Seattle from the Suquamish Tribe for the Piper’s Creek salmon stock supplementation program.
The chum and a few coho return each year to the natural beauty of Carkeek Park. From Saturday, November 10 to Sunday, December 9, Salmon Stewards will be on hand at the park each Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to enhance visitors’ understanding of the life cycle of the salmon. The Salmon Stewards Program is a community volunteer program funded and collaboratively run by Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Restore our Waters program at Seattle Public Utilities. To date, volunteer salmon watchers have recorded 145 live chum and 17 live coho.
The public is invited to the annual Pipers Creek Salmon Celebration, which takes place this year on Friday, November 23, the day after Thanksgiving, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., is one of the best opportunities to see salmon at Carkeek. There will also be treats, warm drinks, music and kids activities to welcome the salmon home.
Pipers 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 Pipers 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 Pipers 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.
After two to five years at sea, the chum salmon return to Pipers Creek as 10 to 22 pound adult fish, ready to spawn. The returning chum salmon include fish released through the stock supplementation program and potentially, descendants of fish that spawned naturally in the creek. typically, between 100 and 600 chum salmon spawners return to Pipers Creek between late October and mid-December.
The peak of spawning generally occurs each year around Thanksgiving. Stay up to date on fish sightings in Pipers Creek by following the Carkeek Park Salmon Stewards on Facebook, or call 206-684-5999.