TRUMPETER CREEK — A usually quiet area where tall grasses surround a murky creek just northeast of Mount Vernon was bustling Monday as a group worked to catch fish in nets.
The fish were being taken out of Trumpeter Creek as part of a restoration project.
Skagit County, the Skagit Land Trust and Ducks Unlimited are working together on the project, which will restore Trumpeter Creek to a flow that will meander through the grassy landscape and eventually be flanked by trees and shrubs.
In the early 1900s, Trumpeter Creek was straightened into a deep ditch that improved drainage for agriculture on the land around it, Skagit Land Trust Conservation Director Michael Kirshenbaum said.
Restoring 3,000 feet of the creek on Skagit Land Trust property to a meandering flow will improve water quality and benefit fish.
Skagit County Habitat Restoration Specialist Emily Derene said the combination of a meandering flow and the addition of plants along the creek will help keep the water clean and cool.
Trumpeter Creek connects with Nookachamps Creek, which flows into Barney Lake and eventually into the Skagit River.
The Skagit Land Trust has been working for years to protect the Nookachamps Creek watershed and Barney Lake, which offer important habitat for salmon, amphibians and birds.
While using nets of various sizes Monday, project staff, volunteers and Emerson High School students caught coho salmon, other native fish and invasive species including catfish from Trumpeter Creek.
“That was a good run. We caught a big-ass catfish,” 18-year-old Emerson student Trevor Ulrich said while climbing out of the water to get a closer look at the catfish that had been put into a bucket.
The catfish and other invasive species caught in the creek were removed, but native species including the coho were released into the new channel of Trumpeter Creek.
Work on Trumpeter Creek began in August and is expected to be completed by early October.
The project is primarily being paid for with a grant from the state Department of Ecology. The county and Ducks Unlimited are providing additional support.
In addition to improving water quality in Trumpeter Creek, the project will allow the area to take on more floodwater during the wet season. That will create wetland habitat used by fish, frogs and birds, said C.K. Eidem, regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited.
Project partners said neighboring fields will continue to be farmed for hay and other crops after the project is complete.
“This project will be especially cool for us because we’re going to keep these working pastures, which are really good for geese,” Eidem said.
Ducks Unlimited is a national wetland conservation organization that focuses on habitat for birds — particularly ducks — for recreation including hunting and bird-watching.
Over the years, the organization has helped the Skagit Land Trust protect Barney Lake and surrounding habitat.