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The health of our streams depends on us | Editor's Notebook
As I entered the trailhead, Poulsbo’s Wilderness Park seemed such a welcome departure from the surrounding urban environment: The south fork of Dogfish Creek emerges from the ground and meanders through 11.56 acres of second-growth forest toward State Route 305 on its way to the creek’s main stem and Liberty Bay.
“It’s kind of a jewel,” Poulsbo Parks Director Mary McCluskey said.
The south fork was the water source for the city in its early days, and the structures used to capture water are still there. The property was donated to the city by the Myreboe family in the 1960s.
These natural places are important. They connect us with what’s vital: Habitat for other living things; water, which every living thing needs in order to live; the quiet of nature, which is good for the soul. Deer and raccoons are regular inhabitants of Wilderness Park. A resident reported sighting a bear there a couple of years ago, McCluskey said.
These places are also important because they help maintain the natural balance. Sixty-five percent of the Dogfish Creek sub-basin has been developed, and 38 percent of it is impervious, meaning the ground can’t absorb rainfall. That means tainted runoff flowing unfiltered into our sea. It means flooding. That’s why forests, natural landscapes and open streams are important, even to the urban environment.
Only a few steps onto the trail, and my disappointment — sadness, really — began.
A paper poster someone had tied to a tree lay on the ground, its ink smeared by rain.
Wads of tissue paper had been left behind in plants next to the trail.
Plastic bottles and aluminum cans had been tossed aside. In the creek, bottles and cans clogged against a log jam.
Cigarettes had been snuffed out and left on the trail.
There’s a trash can at the opening to the trail, but no lid, leaving the contents accessible to critters.
Careless. Thoughtless. Reckless.
In our region, it took only 150 years to damage salmon habitat that flourished for thousands of years. Development in shoreline areas. Dams. Fertilizers. Logging. Polluted stormwater runoff.
Today, dams are being torn down on the Elwha River. Culverts are being removed so salmon can return unimpeded to natal streams. Dikes are being removed so waters can return to estuaries. Pollution sources are being identified and corrected.
But Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and a foremost expert on salmon, believes we’re losing habitat faster than we can restore it.
Wilderness Park is an example of why he’s right. A culvert and road were removed and replaced with a bridge so water can flow freely in Kingston’s Apple Tree Cove, improving habitat for salmon and other creatures. But in Wilderness Park, the south fork of Dogfish Creek carries garbage to Liberty Bay.
One step forward, one step back.
The Suquamish Tribe, Trout Unlimited and the city have done considerable stream restoration and planting of native plants on this fork of Dogfish Creek. And yet, last summer, a pickup load of garbage was removed from the creek downstream, near Poulsbo Village. One step forward, one step back.
On Sunday, a couple of hours before my visit to Wilderness Park, young volunteers removed debris, leaves and sediment from a rearing pond on Big Valley Road to prepare it for salmon fingerlings. Dogfish Creek once teemed with chum, coho, cutthroat and steelhead. Today, not so much.
“Back when the creek was teeming with fish, the landscape was different, with a lot of forest,” said Paul Dorn, salmon recovery coordinator for the Suquamish Tribe. “Beavers built dams, which increased the groundwater recharge. Now, a lot of forest has been removed and we have a lot more roofs. The natural flow of water off the landscape is a lot quicker.”
Dogfish Creek is the largest stream system in Poulsbo, comprised of about 4,700 acres and the main stem, the east and south forks, and several small tributaries. It’s important to migrating water fowl, amphibians and insects, as well as fish.
Steelhead sightings are infrequent, Dorn said. An estimated 1,000 chum salmon return each fall to spawn — 500 in the main stem and 500 in the north fork. One hundred coho have been counted in the north fork and 100 in Big Valley, most of those salmon strayed from the net pen hatchery in Agate Pass.
Cutthroat numbers are up. “We hope to see the steelhead return to Dogfish Creek,” Dorn said. “In Dogfish Creek, a lot of fish have disappeared from the landscape. We want to protect what we have.”
Our natural places rely on us to be responsible. Especially close to home. If you think you can toss aside that bottle, can or wrapper because someone else will pick it up, think again. The city Parks Department has 15 parks comprising 98.17 acres. Number of maintenance workers: Two. When you visit Wilderness Park, pack it in and pack it out. Leave nothing but footprints.
“It could be a much more robust and healthy system,” Dorn said. “We can do quite a bit, each of us, where we live.”