Pacific Northwest creek bed renewal brings home the salmon

Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, the city of Kirkland, Washington, has seen more than its share of housing developments, condominium towers, office parks, and strip malls, generally to the incremental degradation of streams like Juanita Creek.

A windstorm brought it all to Holly Smith’s doorstep, when a giant maple was blown down between the creek and Cafe Juanita – the legendary restaurant helmed by Ms. Smith, a nationally acclaimed chef. Once the tree was down, water eroded more and more land, inching the creek nearer to the restaurant.

Why We Wrote This

Environmental challenges can seem overwhelming. But singular efforts can have a big impact – as this chief discovered when she revived her tiny portion of a creek.

With help from the King Conservation District and the nonprofit Adopt-a-Stream Alliance, Ms. Smith installed huge tree stumps chained to massive boulders in the creek, which not only stopped the erosion but also turned the stream into an ideal refuge for salmon and trout. Alongside the creek, she planted some 500 willow and dogwood saplings and, wherever possible, replaced lawn with other native plants.

When it was all done, the salmon returned.

“These streams, even in the city, are important,” says Jesse Dykstra, with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Holly did just what we want to see in these smaller urban streams: pockets of habitat.”

In 22 years of looking for them, Holly Smith had seen only one salmon attempting the upstream journey to spawn in Juanita Creek.

“Actually, my son saw one and I saw one,” she says. “Two fish in 22 years. I’m not lying.”

Not seeing salmon spawning here was hardly a shock. Like the rest of this region, the city of Kirkland, a bedroom community across Lake Washington from Seattle, has seen more than its share of housing developments, condominium towers, office parks, and strip malls, generally to the incremental degradation of streams like Juanita Creek.

Why We Wrote This

Environmental challenges can seem overwhelming. But singular efforts can have a big impact – as this chief discovered when she revived her tiny portion of a creek.

Environmentalists, the fishing industry, and Pacific Northwest tribes have warned of dwindling salmon fisheries for years. But Ms. Smith was about to discover that the quiet insistence of nature would conspire with values ​​her parents had instilled in her and improve life for at least a few endangered fish.

Swimming upstream

Ms. Smith is a nationally acclaimed chef, and her legendary restaurant, appropriately named Cafe Juanita, sits on the creek’s bank. After a windstorm topped a giant maple that had stood between the creek and the restaurant, she watched the water erode more and more country.

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