In an area where the south fork of the Stillaguamish River moves from mountain terrain to valley before winding its way toward the saltwater near Camano Island, the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians and U.S. Forest Service are working to reroute the river's flow in order to improve habitat for fish.
This rerouting of the river is taking place in what's called the Gold Basin reach, near Granite Falls. In exchange for healthier water for threatened chinook salmon and other Stillaguamish River fish, some campsites at the Forest Service's Gold Basin Campground are being removed.
"The project balances the need to recover native fish populations such as chinook salmon while balancing public recreation use of the campground," a Forest Service news release states.
While nearly half of the about 100 campsites at Gold Basin Campground — the largest campground along the Mountain Loop Highway according to the Forest Service — will be lost, the benefit to fish with Endangered Species Act listings outweighs the cost, according to the Forest Service.
Government agencies, tribes and nonprofits have been working throughout Western Washington to restore threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon, including within the Skagit River watershed that borders the Stillaguamish.
The campsites that will be lost at Gold Basin are those closest to the Stillaguamish River. They are in area where the river historically flowed.
The problem for fish stems from the mountain slope across the river from the campground. That steep slope continuously erodes, sending sediment into the water.
That sediment can smother salmon eggs and young fish, and fill in important habitat features such as pools where fish seek refuge.
After several years of study, the Forest Service, tribe and additional stakeholders determined that the placement of the campground exacerbated the erosion issue after it "constricted the river channel up against the eroding mountain slope," according to the release.
The project partners began work in March to take out the campsites and reroute the river. The project is expected to be completed this fall.
The Stillaguamish Watershed Council secured federal and state grant funding for the project.