More than 180,000 people migrate to Salmon Days
October 6, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Salmon Days Festival attendees packed like sardines on the bridge across Issaquah Creek last weekend. Leaning over the bridge railing, thousands of festivalgoers watched the main attraction, hundreds of salmon, attempt to jump over the hatchery dam.
Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Executive Director Gestin Suttle said crossing the bridge — a seconds-long trip on most days — took 15 minutes on the second day of the festival.
Sunshine and mild temperatures drew huge crowds to the Salmon Days Festival. Issaquah Police Cmdr. Stan Conrad said more than 180,000 people trekked downtown Oct. 3-4 for the annual festival. Robin Kelley, festivals director at the Greater Issaquah Chamber of Commerce and the Salmon Days organizer, said attendance “comes down to the weather one way or the other.”
Crowds two and three people deep at points lined the parade route to watch marching bands from Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline high schools, elaborate floats and the dancing Sammy the Salmon mascot — more than 80 entrants in all — file down Front Street North and Northwest Gilman Boulevard.
The annual Kiwanis Club of Issaquah salmon barbecue was another big draw.
Councilman Fred Butler, a member of the local Kiwanis Club, stepped back from a cloud of alder smoke to ready coho fillets for the grill. Salmon Days, Butler said, “has gotten better and improved every year.”
Kiwanians coated 1,000 pounds of wild salmon in a secret sauce and then grilled the pink flesh for long lines of festivalgoers.
“People cannot resist coming to try the salmon,” Butler said.
On the hatchery grounds, FISH docent Dee Crouch held aloft a sign imploring visitors to ask questions about salmon. During the five Salmon Days’ he has worked as a docent, Crouch said he has been asked everything from, “When will the salmon be allowed upstream to spawn?” to “How much does salmon cost at the Kiwanis barbecue?”
Artist Lola Wilson said she enjoys returning to Salmon Days to bask in “all the good Northwest energy” the festival generates. Wilson and her husband, Mikel, travel from Castle Rock to sell ethereal blown-glass creations of aquatic life, including seashells and, of course, salmon.
Lola Wilson said the artwork represented “beautiful things in nature, and you want to share.”
Even as the Wilsons dial back the number of events where they exhibit their works, she said Salmon Days is a reliable place to sell the shimmering shells.
Across East Sunset Way from the Wilsons’ booth, Nancy Hutto sold wares from the Snoqualmie Valley Honey Farm. The honey is produced at beehives in North Bend and sold at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Hutto has sold the sweet treat at Salmon Days for three decades
“We have a lot of regular customers that count on us being here,” she said.
Longtime Issaquah resident Megan Berrend, 20, first attended Salmon Days when she was 7. Nowadays, she makes a point to walk to the festival from her downtown apartment, rain or shine. Berrend picks up a few favorites at the festival each year: roasted corn on the cob, kettle corn and a salmon-and-cream-cheese piroshky. She picked up some incense and a decorative plaque Oct. 3. She planned to hit up a few more Salmon Days sights the next day.
“The hatchery is so much fun,” she said.
Kelley said food vendors and volunteers at the Salmon Days retail booth — where pins, sweatshirts and totes emblazoned with the festival logo were sold — reported strong sales.
“People are just having a really good time,” Kelley said as the sun set on the first day of the festival.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.