Viewing Chum Salmon
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Piper's Creek shore

Piper's Creek (Carkeek Park - Seattle)

Piper's Creek, which drains into Puget Sound, is the center piece of Seattle's Carkeek Park. The watershed is a little under 3 square miles and, outside of the park area, has a human population of about 17,000. There are roughly 1.5 miles of open creek system within Carkeek Park. Historically, Piper's Creek and its tributaries were reported to support runs of steelhead, sea-run cutthroat, and coho and chum salmon. In 1893 the Great Northern Railroad was built over Piper's Creek, and in 1906 the railroad built a rock seawall and placed the creek in a culvert under the tracks. The last of the virgin timber in the watershed was logged off in 1921. In 1927, local residents reported seeing the last pair of spawning salmon in the creek. In 1929 commercial salmon traps in marine waters in the vicinity of Piper's Creek were removed. These events along with over-fishing, urbanization, and the use of the creek as an extension of the storm-water drainage ditches by the city were the significant events which led to the demise of the historical salmon runs.

Fortunately, in 1929 much of the Piper's Creek watershed became Carkeek Park. This preserved the land surrounding Piper's Creek (currently 223 acres). The park land, the existing open spaces, backyards and large trees acts as buffers to help protect the creek and it's spring-fed tributary system. The creek has a minimum flow of 3 cubic feet per second available for fish habitat, making it possible to reintroduce salmon to the system. In addition, though the historical salmon populations vanished, the creek system has continued to provide habitat for an ancestral, resident cutthroat trout population.

Piper's CreekThe Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project (CWCAP) has been working to restore the creek since 1979. Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Parks and Recreation has joined CWCAP in the effort to restore a more viable habitat for salmon. Together they have worked to educate the public, and improve water quality and fish passage. They lobbied to halt fishing at the mouth of Pipers Creek during spawning season, added an imprint pond (a retained area of the creek were the new hatchery fish spend time to acclimatize to the creek), added weirs to make the fish's journey back upstream more gradual, and planted many new plants and shrubs along the creek to recreate a more natural salmon habitat. Seattle Public Utilities has recently completed many in-stream erosion and sedimentation control projects to improve salmon habitat in the creek. However, Piper's Creek is now an urban creek and it is recognized that it will not be possible to overcome all of the impacts of the urbanization of the upper watershed.

Because of the potential for salmon production in the watershed, volunteers from CWCAP began a salmon enhancement project in Piper's Creek in partnership with the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). The Piper's Creek project is classified as a stock supplementation program. Chum salmon are provided by the Suquamish Tribe’s Grover’s Creek Hatchery as eyed eggs for the Salmon in the Classroom programs (run by the Seattle Public Utilities), and as fingerlings for release into Piper's Creek. The chum fingerlings are first introduced into the Les Malmgren imprinting pond, usually as part of Earth Day activities at Carkeek Park. The young chum are held in the pond and fed between 3-4 days to imprint them to the "smell" of the creek system and help them to return as adults to spawn. To increase their survival rate, the fingerlings are released at night and at high tide to avoid predators and to help them reach the security of the deeper off-shore waters of the sound and eel grass beds south of Carkeek Park.

After 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 years at sea, the chum salmon return to Piper's Creek as 7 to 15 pound adult fish, ready to spawn. The returning chum salmon are a mix of fish from the releases of hatchery chum and from the natural spawning that now occurs in Piper's Creek. Typically, from 100 to 600 chum salmon spawners return to Piper's Creek, primarily from mid-November through mid-December. The peak of spawning generally occurs during the first week of December, and that time period would likely provide the best opportunity for viewing spawning chum salmon.

An Invitation to Visit the Chum Salmon at Piper's Creek
Located in Carkeek Park, Seattle, Washington

Piper's Creek map

Facts: Each Saturday and Sunday from mid-November to early December, the Carkeek Park Salmon Stewards are available to you to answer questions at the viewing areas along Piper Creek from 11am-2pm. Salmon to Sound Trail and Salmon Friendly Garden brochures are also available for further information.

Special 'Free' Event: Carkeek 's Annual Salmon Celebration! Friday, November 27th, 2015 from 11 am to 1 pm. More details are available from the Environmental Learning Center (206-684-5999).

When: Best chum salmon viewing time is from the 3rd week in November to the 2nd week in December.

Where: Carkeek Park is located in NW Seattle. Take I-5 exit #173 going either north or south. Proceed west on Northgate Way (turns into NW 105th) to 3rd Ave NW. Turn right on 3rd Ave NW to NW 110th. Then turn left on NW 110 (turns into Carkeek Park Road). Go through park to Salmon Viewing Areas. Parking is available nearby. Or take Metro Bus #28 and get off at Eddie Mcabee entrance across from QFC, or at NW 113th and walk to Salmon Viewing Areas.


Viewing Areas are wheelchair accessible.

Information Submitted by Nancy Malmgren, Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project, Volunteer Cooperator WDFW Project
Graphic By: Mindie Mcdonnell