MARBLEMOUNT — Though Pressentin Park is closed to the public because of ongoing habitat restoration and construction work, some highly anticipated visitors have been spotted in the area.

Fish have been seen in the new side channel to the Skagit River that opened in August at the Skagit County park near where the Skagit and Cascade rivers meet.

“We have already seen pink and chinook using the channel to spawn since its construction,” Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group Habitat restoration coordinator Erin Matthews said.

Those are adult salmon that have migrated upriver to lay and fertilize eggs. Young fish that haven’t yet migrated out to the sea have also been seen in the channel, and adult coho and chum are expected to arrive in November to spawn.

The half-mile channel was dug this summer, generally in an area that used to fill with water during seasonal Skagit River high flows or floods.

The new channel is lined with rock and wood in some places to create good habitat for fish, and partners in the project are working to plant 11 acres of trees and shrubs along its banks.

Skagit County Parks and Recreation is also continuing work on trail building and the installation of park infrastructure.

With the exception of being open for Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group events in October, November and December, the park will likely remain closed to the public until spring.

Development at the park has been a long time coming since the Pressentin family donated the 40-acre property to Skagit County in 1991. The current phase of construction includes trails, picnic areas, fishing access and campsites.

“It’s going to be really cool. The additions are incredible, the trails are beautiful, the bridges will offer really nice viewing stations of the channel, the mountains, the location,” Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Adams said. “It’s a great project and we’re really, really excited that it’s almost over.”

Future additions will include restrooms and a playground, and potentially a disc golf course and other overnight accommodations.

Pressentin Park design

This aerial photo shows the location of an existing side channel, denoted "slough," across a bend in the Skagit River as well as the general path of a newly restored half-mile channel that will provide important habitat for salmon.  

Last October, Skagit County Parks and Recreation, the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group and other project partners built a salmon viewing station where an existing side channel meets the Skagit River.

Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group Outreach Manager Lucy DeGrace said the organization is excited to host events at the park so the public can get a chance to see salmon, as well as have opportunities to help with the ongoing planting phase of the project.

DeGrace said Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group board members and staff first saw a spawning salmon in the new channel during a visit Sept. 22.

It was a chinook, one of several species of salmon found in the Skagit River watershed and a main driver of the side channel project.

After decades of decline, the Puget Sound chinook population was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1999. More than 20 years later, the species remains in trouble.

According to the Skagit Chinook Recovery Plan produced in 2005, rearing habitat where young chinook can find refuge from the fast-moving Skagit River, and where they can eat and grow are critical components in the recovery of the species.

These safe spaces include side channels such as this one — “a rare habitat type in the upper Skagit River,” according to the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.

Adams said he has seen salmon in the channel, too, and looks forward to providing public access ahead of the fall salmon spawning season next year.

“We do see fish,” he said. “The bridges are an amazing place to take in the views.”

Earth Corps crew getting a head start on planting along the new channel.jpg

A new Skagit River side channel snakes its way under a newly installed footbridge at Pressentin Park on Sept. 22 while members of the nonprofit EarthCorps plant native vegetation along its banks.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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