Issaquah Salmon Hatchery celebrates 75 years

September 4, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

See salmon, Snoqualmie carver at open house

Members of Girl Scout Troop 200 and some Canadian Girl Scout guests sit at the edge of one of the fish ponds Oct. 3, 1970, during a tour of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery given by Mayor Keith Hansen (far left) during the first Salmon Festival. File

Salmon reached the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery late last month, but the arrival is not the only celebration at the downtown landmark.

The hatchery opened along the creek 75 years ago, and to mark the milestone, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery is hosting a celebration Sept. 8.

“We wanted to bring people to the hatchery at the time when the salmon first arrive, when there’s a lot of excitement,” FISH Executive Director Jane Kuechle said in a recent interview.

The open house is the latest event to commemorate the anniversary. FISH hosted local dignitaries and the public at the hatchery on Earth Day to launch the anniversary celebrations.

FISH plans to open the hatchery to the public for tours, a salmon welcome ceremony by Snoqualmie Tribe members, a scavenger hunt and other activities at the open house.

Ray Mullen, a Snoqualmie Tribe member, plans to lead a ceremony to welcome salmon back to Issaquah Creek after a long migration to the Pacific Ocean and back.

Participants can also watch John Mullen, a Snoqualmie Tribe carver, demonstrate carving techniques and they can try out carving.

The list of activities also includes a habitat hike to the upper intake dam on Issaquah Creek and a hatchery history display.

The family-friendly event features opportunities for visitors of all ages to create fence art, feed trout, dissect a salmon and, of course, see salmon in the creek and the hatchery ponds.

If you go

Issaquah Salmon Hatchery 75th anniversary open house

  • Noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 8
  • 125 W. Sunset Way
  • Free

Conservationists and longtime Issaquah residents credit the hatchery for restoring the historic Issaquah Creek salmon runs after decades of logging and mining damaged the creek and surrounding watershed.

“The creek didn’t have anything in it when the hatchery was built, and we were the ones who created that problem,” Kuechle said.

In 1936, Works Progress Administration crews started to build the hatchery complex on a former city park and bandstand.

The hatchery opened the next year and, in the meantime, the public works projects completed by the Works Progress Administration offered jobs amid the Great Depression.

The original salmon stocks for the hatchery originated in the Green River. Early hatchery crews spawned chinook and coho salmon, plus steelhead.

The facility also serves a key role in local culture.

In the 1970s, as the Issaquah Labor Day celebration morphed into the Salmon Days Festival, the hatchery served as a focal point during the festivities.

The hatchery — and a bridge across Issaquah Creek on hatchery grounds — form the centerpiece each October during the Salmon Days Festival.

Despite the success, officials confronted a grim future for the hatchery in the early 1990s. State leaders eyed the hatchery for closure amid a budget crisis. Issaquah leaders and residents rallied to preserve the structure.

FISH formed in 1994 to leads tours during the autumn salmon runs, and the group spearheads educational programs in school classrooms and at the facility — the most-visited state-run hatchery.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to operate the hatchery. The city-owned hatchery land is leased to the state for 99 years.

The hatchery concentrates on chinook and coho nowadays, and serves a key role in a program to restore the dwindling Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon population.

“The big message of the day is the importance of the hatchery in Issaquah and salmon culture,” Kuechle said.

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