Mention wild salmon and steelhead and many people think of places like Alaska, perhaps the coasts of Washington and Oregon and the north coast of California; sparsely populated areas where lots of wildlands and healthy rivers remain. It’s true some of those places are the last strongholds for salmon and steelhead. But there are many rivers and creeks that once sustained an abundance of wild salmon and steelhead, have potential to do so again, and are close to some of the most populated areas in the nation.
Redwood Creek is one of those places: a small but significant 4.7-mile creek that begins on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County and empties into the Pacific at Muir Beach about 17 miles northwest of San Francisco and the Bay Area – home to nearly 7.5 million people.
Thousands of people visit Muir Beach each year. If they’re alert, read the posted signs and look around, they’ll learn about a multi-year, landscape-level coastal restoration project began in 2009 designed to bring back the ecological functions of Redwood Creek, freshwater wetlands, and intermittent tidal lagoon and dunes over a 46-acre site along the mouth of the creek.
The North Bay Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) has been very active in the effort.
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Redwood Creek watershed is one of 25 global biodiversity “hot spots” recognized by The Nature Conservancy and is also within the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, one of more than 400 reserves designated by the United Nations to provide a global network of the world’s major ecosystem types.
In addition to river otters, bobcats, green herons, peregrine falcons, northern spotted owls, California red-legged frogs and other rare wildlife, the creek also sustains threatened steelhead trout and endangered Central Coast coho salmon.
The project includes replacing invasive weeds with native plants, restoring and reconnecting wetlands and floodplains, removing barriers to river flow and fish migration and placing woody debris in the creek to improve fish habitat.
While still a few years out from completion, the project is already paying off. No salmon were seen in Redwood Creek during the 2007-2008 nor the 2008-2009 winter runs. In January 2010, an estimated 45 adult coho salmon swam up the creek to spawn. In 2001, 12 coho were counted. Eggs are hatching, and once again young coho (along with juvenile steelhead) inhabit the creek and will hopefully grow strong, large and healthy enough to head for the ocean and return to do their own spawning.
The North Bay Chapter is helping ensure that happens.
On Saturday, March 16, 12 volunteers from the chapter joined with three folks from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to to build bundles of woody debris and place to provide shade, shelter and hiding cover for young salmon and steelhead.
It was just one of many volunteer outings the North Bay Chapter has organized. Thanks to their ongoing efforts, the salmon and steelhead are making a comeback in Redwood Creek.
Meet Austin Peck:
One of the North Bay volunteers participating in the Redwood Creek restoration effort is Austin Peck, a 17-year-old high school student from Mill Valley, California. He loves to fish local reservoirs, lakes, rivers and creeks for bass, trout and salmon. He first learned about TU through a Trout in the Classroom program – a program supported by TU volunteers throughout the country, to help school kids learn more about and connect to their local watersheds.
“I always liked fishing, but it was when I participated in Trout in the Classroom that I noticed conservation is also important for anglers to practice,” Austin says. “During the program, my fourth grade class took a walk to a nearby Mill Valley stream, Warner creek, and it really struck me — here, in a stream where only decades earlier there were large coho and steelhead runs, there was nothing but trash. It was there that I saw how important conservation is. I would go there after school sometimes and pick up trash from the creek. A few years ago I noticed a steelhead fry swimming around in a clear pool. Seeing this, I felt that conservation really paid off and that I wanted to get further involved with TU.”
Trout in the Classroom does, indeed, connect students to their watersheds!
Thanks to TU volunteers all over the nation, and thanks to programs like Trout in the Classroom, the future of wild trout, salmon and steelhead, and related fishing opportunities, is looking better every day.
Please feel free to share your stories of how you first got involved with TU and conservation in the comments section. Thanks.