Harbor WildWatch was founded in 2004 with a focus on engaging the community and educating it about the wonders of Puget Sound.
Fast-forward to 2017 when Harbor WildWatch, along with members of the Gig Harbor community, will again celebrate the return of salmon to Gig Harbor Bay with the annual Donkey Creek Chum Festival from noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 18.
This year the event has expanded to include Friday, Nov. 17 for local K-12 students, when programming for the day will be geared toward students rather than the general public.
The additional day will offer an opportunity for students to take part in a Salmon Bowl trivia competition, an Environmental Career Day Panel, create salmon art, spend time outdoors learning more about the habitat at Austin Estuary and Donkey Creek Park, experience interactive learning stations and break up in small groups to learn even more about the return of the salmon to local waters.
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Friday’s kids-only event will take place at the Harbor History Museum.
Lindsey Stover, executive director of Harbor WildWatch, said the nonprofit has been delivering the estuary programs to local schools at Donkey Creek and Austin Estuary for four years.
Schools in the Peninsula School District and other districts bring students to the creek and let them explore during those visits. Staff biologists and volunteers spend three hours or so to help students learn about salmon life cycle from eggs to creek and back to that same creek, Stover said.
“We talk about the incredible sense of smell and they learn about the life cycle of the salmon and what we can do to help them make sure waters are clean,” Stover said.
The following day, everyone can celebrate the return of salmon to Gig Harbor Bay by attending the Donkey Creek Chum Festival.
The free and family friendly event will allow visitors an opportunity to take salmon tours with a biologist, watch sustainability demonstrations and visit more than 20 vendor booths where information on how everyone can help local salmon will be available.
In addition to taking part in the Donkey Creek Chum Festival, visitors will be able to tour the Harbor History Museum free of charge.
“This event will remind us all we are really connected to the water and the habitat that it supports. In order for the salmon to be healthy, the water has to be healthy. It is all about the salmon,” said Stover.
Many of the activities will take place at the Harbor History Museum, but tours along the creek will take place as well.
This is the first year the chum festival is not taking place in September.
“We moved the event this year to correspond with the salmon run because the number one question we would get every year was, ‘Where are the salmon?,’” Stover said. “Since chum salmon don’t come up until mid-November, we adjusted the event this year.”
Peninsula Light Company and several community partners including the city of Gig Harbor help sponsor the event.
In addition to events taking place in the Harbor History Museum, outdoor activities will include canoe, kayak and paddleboard races and live local music as well as an opportunity to join Harbor WildWatch for a guided walking tour through Austin Estuary and Donkey Creek Park, where visitors should be able to experience the salmon run.
Harbor WildWatch has grown by leaps and bounds since 2004 when it was founded by a Gig Harbor citizen, DeeDee Houser, whose goal was to introduce the public to all that Puget Sound had to offer.
“We started out in 2004 as grassroots and we have grown based on community needs,” Stover said. “We started with public programs and then people started saying we should do this in the classrooms and take kids to the beach.”
Learn more about the event at harborwildwatch.org. Harbor WildWatch can also be found on Facebook.