Salmon Days Festival delivers mild, wild fun

October 4, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah’s annual celebration returns for 42nd year

The S’Duk Albix parade float, with Snoqualmie Tribe members, enthralls Grande Parade spectators. Phot0 by Greg Farrar

Organizers promised a wild Salmon Days Festival.

The mild temperatures — misty clouds on Oct. 1 yielded to stray sunshine Oct. 2 — belied a rowdy theme, and crowds turned out in droves for the salmon-centric celebration.

The festival unfolded as a tribute to the untamed under the theme “Wild Things!” — a riff on the classic children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Salmon Days spanned Issaquah, from hydroplane races on Lake Sammamish to booths lined up downtown to a float-filled parade inching along city streets. The festival lured more than 150,000 people to Issaquah as the annual autumn celebration returned for a 42nd year.

To celebrate the occasion, Maple Valley resident Bob Taylor ordered a Flintstonian turkey leg from a Foods of the World booth along the trolley track and tore off a bite from the outsized drumstick.

“They’re fresh out of the oven and they’re a whole meal you can hold in one hand,” he said as wife Mary Ann nibbled a dainty-by-comparison salmon-topped Caesar salad nearby.

Salmon Days hordes descended on the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery gift shop and stripped commemorative lapel pins and other souvenirs from racks. Children snapped up blank T-shirts for fish prints — smearing paint-coated fish against the fabric — in a barbaric-but-artistic display fit for a feral festival.

Even the fish print activity offered a chance for vest-clad, sign-carrying FISH docents to share facts about salmon.

“I was so surprised at the people who don’t know the salmon life cycle, even people who live right here,” FISH Executive Director Jane Kuechle said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, they die? You kill them?’ It’s kind of like, ‘Yes, that’s what happens.’ Little kids want to know why and we say, ‘Well, that’s Mother Nature.’”

From mild to wild

Beneath the trappings and trimmings, Salmon Days celebrates spawning salmon in Issaquah Creek. Crowds jammed the bridge across the creek on the hatchery grounds and pressed close to portals to see the fish up close.

“Hopefully, people understand the life cycle of the salmon, the importance of the ecology,” Kuechle said. “All of that can only help people be better stewards of the environment.”

Duvall residents Cliff and Beth Nelson offered a civilized display at a booth for Puzzled Postage — images from stamps crafted into Lilliputian puzzles. The effort requires some precision craftsmanship from the husband-and-wife team.

Jake Szramek headed north from Salem, Ore., to Salmon Days to offer handmade wooden toys — cars, trains, even a pirate ship beneath billowing sails.

“Everybody has to have a hobby, this is mine,” he said. “My wife likes to travel, I like to make toys.”

Salmon appeared almost everywhere on the festival grounds — in the creek, in artwork crafted from ceramic, wood and metal — and on plates alongside coleslaw at the Kiwanis Club of Issaquah Salmon Barbecue.

Sammamish resident Jeroen de Borst left the Sammamish Plateau to introduce his family to Salmon Days.

“For our first time here, we had to have salmon at Salmon Days,” he said from a table at the Kiwanis Club barbecue.

From wild to mild

Redmond resident Gail Greenwood donned a leopard-print sprawl and matching bucket hat from a Salmon Days seller Oct. 2 and bounced along as The Fabulous Roof Shakers performed a blues- and rock-inflected set on the Front Street Stage.

“We come every year for the fabulous artwork and for the live entertainment like this,” she said. “It’s almost like a rite of passage, a celebration of fall.”

Musicians performed a broad spectrum — from blues to bluegrass, folk to funk, and rock to R&B — on Salmon Days stages.

Debbie Hosko, a festivalgoer from Black Diamond, stopped for a hand-dipped corndog at Salmon Days, a festival treat.

“Our first stop was corn dogs,” she said. “They’re better than the fair’s.”

Issaquah resident Nina Fay joined a crowd at the Rainier Blvd. Stage to listen as Heartless, a Seattle-based Heart tribute band, performed “Crazy on You” and other numbers from the classic rock outfit.

“I’ve been coming to this festival for 30 to 40 years,” she said. “These guys rock. The first songs I ever knew were Heart songs like ‘Barracuda.’ I know every word to that song. To see them here is so great.”

Bothell resident Mary Addams and Kirkland resident Laura Brady reached Issaquah for Salmon Days, but landed at the Lake Sammamish Elks Lodge after fatigue and hunger set in. Turns out the Elks dished out all-you-can-eat fish-and-chip platters to the masses throughout the festival.

Brady realized the irony of eating beer-battered cod at a celebration of salmon, but no matter.

“We were walking by and it sounded delicious,” she said.

Redmond resident Greenwood recalled Salmon Days’ early years, before the festival ballooned into a regional attraction.

“I remember when this was just a little festival,” she said. “It has grown a lot since then.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Reporters Tom Corrigan, David Hayes and Christina Lords contributed to this report. Comment at

Bookmark and Share
Other Stories of Interest: , , , , , , , , ,


Got something to say?

Before you comment, please note:

  • These comments are moderated.
  • Comments should be relevant to the topic at hand and contribute to its discussion.
  • Personal attacks and/or excessive profanity will not be tolerated and such comments will not be approved.
  • This is not your personal chat room or forum, so please stay on topic.