MARBLEMOUNT — At Skagit County’s little-known Pressentin Park in Marblemount the landscape is awash in fall colors and the fast-moving Skagit River has turned a rain-fed brown to match.
The real star of this scene, though, is less obvious. It’s the fish moving from the river to a slower-paced side channel called Marblemount Slough. A patient observer might see their underwater silhouettes and the occasional splash of a tail leaving ripples in its wake.
This time of year those glimpses may be of coho salmon returning to the slough to spawn. The slough is also visited during winter by spawning chum salmon and at other times of the year serves as a resting place for young coho, chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
This week, the nonprofit Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, with help from EarthCorps, is building a salmon viewing station where the slough meets the river.
The station includes a wooden fence, benches and an interpretive sign about the fish that use the observable habitat.
The station is a small step toward broader development of Pressentin Park, which has been awarded funding through various programs. A larger construction effort is planned for 2021.
“We’re excited about the viewing station,” Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Adams said after a site visit. “We also look forward to what’s going to be happening out there next year. It’s going to be an exciting project.”
Skagit County Parks and Recreation and the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group are working together on the park project, which has multiple goals.
“Our aim is to both improve habitat and improve public access to the water,” Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group Restoration ecologist Sue Madsen said. “The whole project is a combination of habitat restoration and park development.”
The fish-focused nonprofit is leading restoration of a second side channel that runs through the park.
“Our interest in this — as it often is — is in side channel, small habitat connection to the Skagit,” Madsen said. “There is a remnant of one of those side channels right in the middle of Pressentin Park.”
Sections of this former channel remain visible throughout the park and under water that rises and falls with the changing flows of the Skagit River.
Ducking under tree branches Wednesday, Madsen approached a steep bank of the former side channel. A dark pool of water sprinkled with yellow leaves was flanked by large cedars and maples, with moss and lichen draped over many of their branches.
“This is where you start seeing what we’re trying to re-create,” Madsen said.
Next year, Skagit Fisheries plans to carve out a new half-mile slough connecting this pocket of remaining side channel with others, and to restore the flow of river water through it.
“We’re always looking for those opportunities to reconnect,” Madsen said.
The salmon viewing station being built this week along Marblemount Slough offers a glimpse of the park’s future as a place for visitors to explore and wildlife to endure.
The salmon that spawn there become food that entices bald eagles to the banks. The area is also home to creatures ranging from small birds to black bears, as evidenced by scat along the trails.
“There’s some real classroom opportunities out there (at the viewing station),” Adams said. “We also see it as a potential location where maybe say the Birds of Winter or other groups can base out of for bird-watching.”
Other plans for the park include building trails with bridge crossings over both sloughs, day-use areas, restrooms and a parking area. Access to the park is currently provided at the Shell gas station in Marblemount, and unmarked trails are mowed out of the brush.
For now, the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group is excited to get the salmon viewing station in place.
“We’re always looking for places where we can invite the public out to see salmon during the spawning season,” Madsen said.
Usually the organization offers public salmon viewing events, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic those offerings are limited this year.
The Pressentin Park viewing station is one of several sites highlighted on an online map Skagit Fisheries unveiled this month in an effort to encourage the public to look for spawning salmon on their own.
The map and more information is available at sites.google.com/skagitfisheries.org/salmonsightings/home