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Celebrating salmon

Several ways to observe a Northwest icon

A young festivalgoer paints her own salmon at the Donkey Creek Chum Festival. Photo courtesy of Donkey Creek Chum Festival

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On Saturday, Gig Harbor celebrates the return of the salmon - a little early.

The ninth annual Donkey Creek Chum Festival offers walking tours, boat races, touch tanks, crafts and music but not many salmon, other than dead ones - some that kids will coat with paint to make salmon-printed T-shirts and some that have become chum burgers, the event's signature food.

The chum return from the ocean to the creek to spawn in November and December, but the weather at that time of year doesn't lend itself to an outdoor festival. Plus, salmon just don't live by the calendar.

"We talk about the salmon life cycle," said festival organizer Lindsey Johnson, executive director of Harbor WildWatch. "We talk about the creek. We have activities. We're preparing for the salmon run."

Harbor WildWatch offers tours of the creek, which was restored in 2013, at the festival and on Saturdays mid-November through mid-December - or whenever the salmon make their appearance.

"It can be challenging scheduling something when the salmon are supposed to run," Johnson said.

The festival was started by the late Paul Ancich, who was a commercial fisherman and wanted to draw attention to Gig Harbor's fishing industry as well as the importance of the fish.

Tumwater and Olympia also celebrate the salmon - but their events require fishgazers to brave cold weather.

"That's why we started serving hot cider, especially at the November one, because the weather can be really awful," said Debbie Smith, water resources educator for the City of Tumwater.

The Cider Sunday event, held Oct. 4 at Tumwater Falls Park, offers salmon-related arts and crafts and talks by Stream Team's trained salmon stewards. The event, sponsored by the Tumwater Historical Society, is focused more on apples than fish, so you can also taste fresh-pressed cider and try pioneer activities.

At the Nov. 15 event at McLane Creek Nature Trail, you can sip hot cider while listening to Stream Team's trained salmon stewards talk about the creek's chum run.

If you're more interested in seeing the fish than in celebrating them, there are abundant opportunities.

In late summer, Chinook salmon (aka king salmon) can be spotted from the Fifth Avenue Bridge in downtown Olympia. But by this time, they've typically moved on to Tumwater Falls Park, which is a great place to salmon watch thanks to three fish ladders and serene surroundings. They're typically around through the first week in October.

Salmon stewards are at the park to offer guidance from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends and from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, staff from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife harvests eggs for later use.

Chum salmon can also be seen at McLane Creek Nature Trail and Kennedy Creek Trail. The salmon are typically running in both creeks in November and early to mid-December.

At McLane Creek, salmon stewards are on hand from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

The Kennedy Creek Trail is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends Oct. 31 to Nov. 29, plus on Veterans Day and Nov. 27. Volunteer docents are on hand during open hours.

This trail can be tricky to find. To get there, take Route 101 to Old Olympic Highway. Continue on the highway until you see the signs for the trail, then go up Forest Road 2700 for three-quarters of a mile.

Donkey Creek Chum Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 19, Harbor History Museum and Austin Estuary Park, Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, free, or

Cider Sunday and Return of the Chinook, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, Tumwater Falls Park, 110 Deschutes Pkwy. SW, Tumwater, free,

Chum Salmon and Cider Celebration
, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 15, McLane Creek Nature Trail, Delphi Road, Olympia, free but a Discover Pass is needed to park at the trail,

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