MOUNT VERNON — Digging their hands into a tub of wet sand and rock Saturday at Edgewater Park, kids got a hands-on feel for how river habitat supports salmon.

The exhibit, hosted by the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, was among the booths at the eighth annual Skagit River Salmon Festival. The event celebrates the river and five species of native Pacific salmon and educates the public on how they can reduce their impact on the fish.

James Syms, regional habitat engineer for Fish & Wildlife, said the sand tub helps kids learn the importance of the river ecosystem — and how humans can alter it. Using miniature objects inside the tub, he showed that a bridge could replace a culvert, helping salmon migrate better.

At the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group booth, community engagement associate Maddie Reid said a main focus this year is restoring side channels in rivers, which provide a resting and feeding place for young salmon.

Another goal at this year’s event was to link the issue of declining salmon population to struggling southern resident orcas, she said.

Polluted stormwater that flows into the Puget Sound also impacts salmon. Kevin Jackman, environmental resources technician for Skagit County, said residents can help by changing their habits at home.

“Try to wash cars over gravel or grass (instead of pavement) and reduce fertilizer use,” he said. “When a rain event happens, (pollutants) run off into the storm drain.”

At the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance booth, Katelyn Kinn said property owners can help take care of salmon streams by planting trees in buffers, helping provide shade to keep waters cool and filtering toxins.

Her colleague, Eloise Harris, said salmon is embedded in the culture, community and economy of the region.

“Making sure we have healthy, wild salmon and clean water is an issue we should all care about,” she said.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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