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Students set salmon on two-year journey

Left, John Day, a volunteer with the Salmon in the Classroom project, shows PineCrest Elementary students Gen, Megan and Michael how to safely release their salmon into Clear Creek. - Photo by Paul Balcerak
Left, John Day, a volunteer with the Salmon in the Classroom project, shows PineCrest Elementary students Gen, Megan and Michael how to safely release their salmon into Clear Creek.
— image credit: Photo by Paul Balcerak

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

For students at PineCrest Elementary, it was a field trip. For a handful of young salmon, however, Monday afternoon was the start of a two-year roundtrip to the ocean and back.

“This is so sad — we’re letting them all go!” fifth-grader Natalie said facetiously as she and her classmates released the salmon into Clear Creek.

The annual ritual of sorts is all part of the Central Kitsap Kiwanis Club’s Salmon in the Classroom project. The project starts each year with kids raising salmon in fish tanks in their classrooms and ends with the release of the salmon and a few other enviro-friendly activities on Clear Creek Trail.

“The goal is to try to get the people to appreciate the environment, especially at a young age,” Kiwanis Club member and project co-founder Sam Holcomb said.

The program is at its apex right now. Since March 11 and until April 11, students will be releasing salmon, planting trees and getting up to speed on how to be good stewards of mother nature.

The advice they get will be some of the best available, too, as they’re guided by local experts and Kiwanis members — some of whom have been guiding the project for many of its 20 years.

“Clear Creek is unique — there’s nothing like it,” Day explained to his audience as he explained the process of salmon leaving the stream for the ocean and returning.

As the salmon are transferred from their fish tank at PineCrest into a bucket and then into Clear Creek, they “learn” their new waters and memorize them for the return trip. In two years, after some of them have made it as far north as Alaska, they’ll return to Clear Creek specifically — not any other stream — and spawn.

“It’s just amazing how they do it,” Day said.

Day has been working with the Kiwanis Club on the project for 20 years. He and Holcomb have seen the program evolve over the last two decades and are now privy to a generation that knows more than ever about environmental issues.

“It is changing,” Holcomb said. “More and more young kids know about (environmentalism).

“There’s a lot more awareness that we need to protect our aquatic resources.”

It’s not just kids.

“It’s amazing, you know, we’re reaching a lot of parents, too,” Holcomb said.

Some of those parents are ones who participated in Salmon in the Classroom as kids and are now taking their kids on the trip.

The length of the program may be a testament to its popularity among the kids.

Since taking over stewardship of the project at his school about seven years ago, Steve Robinson, fifth grade teacher at PineCrest Elementary, has been branded “the salmon guy.”

“It’s something they look forward to once they’re in my class because like I said, I’m the salmon guy,” Robinson said.

PineCrest’s Monday field trip also afforded kids an opportunity to learn about water quality and the effects trees can have on streams and watersheds.

“When you plant trees along the watershed of Clear Creek, you’re helping to keep all of this sand and dirt out of it,” Day said at one point, pointing out how “trashed” the creek was.

Salmon like to spawn in loose gravel and pebbles.

While the kids may or may not catch on to some of the bigger themes organizers try to promote, they do get exposed to the idea of environmentalism and that’s what the project’s aim is.

Holcomb would just like for the next generation of city planners and developers to think before they act.

“What I like to close it out with is, ‘if we’ve changed everything that fast in 200 years, imagine what it’s going to be like in 100 years when your children, grandchildren are here,’” he said.

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