Funding for Issaquah Salmon Hatchery improvements included in new state construction budget


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Tim Waters, WDFW, (425) 775-1311, ext. 119 Steve Bell, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, (425) 392-1118
ISSAQUAH -- The new state construction budget adopted over the weekend by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Locke calls for the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery to receive nearly $3 million for major renovations.

The funds will be used to construct new salmon rearing raceways and fish holding ponds, and to improve and expand visitor facilities. The hatchery, on five acres in downtown Issaquah, hosts more visitors each year than any other hatchery in the state.

"We're extremely pleased that some much-needed improvements can now take place at this very important facility," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Bern Shanks.

"Not only is the hatchery key in terms of fish production, but it also serves as a major cultural and educational asset locally and for the entire state of Washington."

The work scheduled to be completed with the new money is part of a larger plan to upgrade the hatchery over the next several years. Built during the Depression, the hatchery was once scheduled to be closed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife because of its old equipment and other concerns.

However, city, county and state leaders, local teachers, and area residents argued the hatchery was a major community asset and fought to keep it open. A decision to keep it operating was made in 1995 after the city agreed to match $500,000 in state funds. The money was used to install a new fish ladder and educational exhibits.

Last year, approximately six million coho and chinook salmon were raised at the hatchery.

"I think everyone realizes and embraces not only the educational role this hatchery plays throughout the state and region, but also its role in restoring weak fish stocks in the Lake Washington watershed," said Steve Bell, executive director of the Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH).

The 250-member non-profit group was formed to save the 51-year-old facility and advocate watershed stewardship. The organization provides free educational services to local schools and the public.

Funds allocated in the new budget will be used to rebuild two adult salmon ponds, six raceways and a pollution abatement pond. A commons area will be constructed on the hatchery's south side, and an existing pedestrian footbridge over Issaquah Creek will be replaced with a new bridge capable of handling more people and light vehicles.

In addition, roof and window repairs will be made to the hatchery's main building. The west end of the main building also will be remodeled to better accommodate visitors and educational exhibits.

Future plans call for additional improvements to enhance fish production facilities, as well as the construction of an environmental education center.

Bell said the hatchery's location -- 2.2 million people live within a 40 mile radius of the facility -- makes it an attractive destination for visitors from all over the state. Last year, an estimated 300,000 people visited the hatchery.

Since 1994, FISH members, working with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, King County, local businesses, the Muckleshoot tribe and others, have provided more than 4,000 hours of volunteer educational services to schools and the general public.

The group presently is seeking more than $500,000 from sponsors whose names can be placed on educational exhibits.

Bell said FISH will host an open house at the hatchery from noon to 1 p.m. May 6 to explain the planned improvements. The general public is invited to attend.

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