Most days, things are pretty quiet at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. People walk on the refuge’s trails, watching for birds and other wildlife, and looking at native plants.
On Saturday though, 1,000 people or more are expected to gather at the refuge for the Nisqually Watershed Festival, which celebrates the Nisqually River watershed, the creatures who live there and the people who work there.
There’s plenty to celebrate. The Nisqually delta has been designated as a National Natural Landmark because it’s one of the best remaining examples of this kind of coastal salt marsh system.
The 27th annual festival, organized by the Nisqually River Council, will include local youths sharing their talents in the Nisqually Idol competition, members of the Nisqually Canoe Family performing traditional songs and dances of the Nisqually Tribe and educational presentations. But probably the day’s biggest stars will be the salmon.
It makes sense, because the five species of Pacific salmon living in the watershed are the focus of a lot of time and attention. The refuge is home to the largest estuary restoration project on the Pacific Coast, according to the Nisqually Land Trust.
“A lot of what the Nisqually River Council does is focused on salmon recovery,” said Justin Hall of the Nisqually River Foundation, one of the festival’s organizers.
Festivalgoers can learn about salmon biology. They can paint wooden salmon.
They can coat a dead salmon with paint and create a salmon print to put on a T-shirt or on paper, a craft that can sound strange to the uninitiated, who might not realize that the salmon die of natural causes after spawning. (If you want a salmon shirt, bring your own T-shirt.)
They can eat barbecued salmon — not the same ones people are using for crafts.
They can go inside a 25-foot fiberglass salmon named FIN, owned by the North Olympic Salmon Coalition. “You see the world from the perspective of a salmon,” said Sheila McCartan, the refuge’s visitor services manager.
And they can watch an expert dissect a salmon. “The organs will be passed around so people can examine them closely,” Hall said.
The event also celebrates the other animals who live in the watershed with a live raptor show, a 7-foot eagle’s nest, honeybee hives and an Insect Extravaganza featuring preserved insects.
Then there’s the bear trailer, which houses a stuffed black bear and a stuffed grizzly.
“Kids really love that,” McCartan said. “Adults like to see it, too.”
Even the Nisqually Idol contest, in its second year, fits the theme. Contestants, 18 or younger, can sing any song they like, but appropriate material has a competitive advantage.
“You get extra points in the judging if you do something that’s original and has a watershed or nature theme,” Wall said.
Nisqually Watershed Festival
What: The 27th annual festival is a free and family-friendly celebration of the watershed and its denizens.
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 100 Brown Farm Road NE, Olympia.
Parking: All refuge and festival parking Saturday will be at River Ridge High School, 350 River Ridge Drive, Lacey. There’ll be a free shuttle from the school to the refuge.
Information: 360-753-9467, nisquallyriver.org/nisquallywatershedfestival.
11 a.m.: Raptors of the Northwoods (live raptors).
Noon: Poster contest award ceremony.
12:30 p.m.: Nisqually Canoe Family (traditional songs and dance).
1:30 p.m.: Wolf Camp (nature skills and wildlife education).
2:30 p.m.: Nisqually Idol competition.