Paying witness to the salmon cycle

Viewpoints on Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail show life cycle of chum salmon in action

rboone@theolympian.comNovember 18, 2013 

About 70 people braved Sunday’s wet weather to watch chum salmon complete their life cycle, swimming up Kennedy Creek in Mason County – about halfway between Olympia and Shelton – to spawn and die.

Visitors can watch all that take place at Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail, which offers trails and 11 viewpoints along them so the curious can see the fish in action, swimming to that spot on Kennedy Creek, or the shallower Fiscus Creek, to lay eggs where they were born.

Once the life cycle is underway, the chum salmon swim down the creek into Puget Sound, and then can spend two to three years in the Pacific Ocean – sometimes traveling as far as Japan – before coming home, said Kayta Tourtillot, an Avanti High School student and volunteer docent at the salmon trail.

Tourtillot and fellow docent and friend, Karina Cherniske of North Thurston High School, who both volunteered their time Sunday, were trained by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, an organization that manages the trails, along with the Mason Conservation District. The property is owned by Taylor Shellfish, according to posted information.

The typical range of spawning salmon in Kennedy Creek is 20,000 to 40,000, although it can reach as high as 80,000, according to the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group website.

Tourtillot and Cherniske were on hand to answer questions, such as those about the gender of the fish – males tend to have humped backs and hooked noses, females do not – spawning activity and the life cycle of the chum salmon.

They also recommended that visitors check out the salmon in Fiscus Creek because the creek is shallower, providing a better view of the fish struggling upstream. There also are plenty of dead fish along the creek and a faint odor of rotting salmon.

Tourtillot said she has been coming to the trail since she was 6 years old. She considers herself a “huge environmentalist” and loves to educate visitors about how amazing chum salmon are.

Cherniske, too, wanted to get involved because she loves the outdoors.

They also were tracking Sunday’s attendance.

About 70 people had shown up by 1:30 p.m.. Hundreds of people typically attend, they said, but the poor weather likely kept them away.

The Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail is open until Dec. 1, according to the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group website. It is open to the general public on weekends, Veteran’s Day and the day after Thanksgiving.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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