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Salmon project still a splash

Above, sixth-graders Rachel Saulsberry and Shelby Scheuerman watch as volunteer Bruce Van Woudenberg drops two small chum salmon into Rachel’s cup. Right, classmate Talon Gonyeau and parent-chaperone Lynette Whitney scoop up stonefly bugs. - Photo by Valentina Petrova
Above, sixth-graders Rachel Saulsberry and Shelby Scheuerman watch as volunteer Bruce Van Woudenberg drops two small chum salmon into Rachel’s cup. Right, classmate Talon Gonyeau and parent-chaperone Lynette Whitney scoop up stonefly bugs.
— image credit: Photo by Valentina Petrova

What did Clear Creek look like 300 years ago?

Bruce Van Woudenberg asked a group of five sixth-graders to ponder that question on Wednesday as they perched themselves on the Clear Creek Trail boardwalk somewhere behind the skate park on Silverdale Way.

That large rusty metal pipe probably wasn’t there, someone suggested.

“It didn’t have this culvert here,” Van Woudenberg agreed, “or this bridge you’re sitting on or that highway over there,” he added pointing in the general direction of the far-away sounds of SR 3.

There were, however, huge trees around that kept stream banks from eroding and held water in their roots, releasing the precious liquid into Clear Creek during the summertime droughts.

Van Woudenberg later quizzed the Tracyton Elementary School students on the three types of salmon that spawn in Clear Creek (chum, Chinook and coho).

The lesson preceded the release of 10 chum salmon the students had been raising in an aquarium at their school since winter break.

Van Woudenberg, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Central Kitsap, has been volunteering for years with the Salmon In the Classroom Project.

What started 18 years ago with a few cold water aquariums built of refrigerator parts, has morphed into a program with 30 aquariums, costing $1,000 each, placed mostly in Central Kitsap schools and a few Bremerton, North Kitsap and private schools.

“As more teachers got involved, more teachers wanted to do it,” said Sam Holcomb, Central Kitsap Kiwanis member and former chairman of the Clear Creek Council.

“That all evolved throughout the years as well as we developed kid-proof aquariums,” Holcomb said.

Without complicated pumping mechanisms the 40-gallon fiberglass tanks are relatively low maintenance.

The program is now a collaboration of the CK Kiwanis, who were the pioneers of it, and Clear Creek Council, Clear Creek Task Force and Kitsap County biologists and stream preservationists.

The Suquamish Tribe provides the fish eggs and the feed. Once the little chums are in the students’ aquariums, it is up to the pupils to feed them. They also have to add five gallons of fresh water to the fish tanks almost daily.

“The kids get to be the filter system, except on weekends when the teachers end up feeding the fish,” Holcomb said.

From mid-March through mid-April, some 800 students are visiting Clear Creek in 21 field trips this year to release their chum salmon.

With grants from the Department of Ecology, the Puget Sound Action Team, Kitsap County and other groups, the project has grown up, just like less than 1 percent of the chum salmon it helps release in the stream survive the perils of ocean life and grow up to return to Clear Creek to spawn. Now the project buses students to the stream and offers fish releasing, tree planting, water quality testing and stream bugs exploration.

Any group of students in the program — second grade through junior high — cycle through the four activities where volunteers help them learn about each aspect of caring for the Clear Creek system.

Tracyton sixth-grader Danial Baugous let his Jimmy and Christy swim off into Clear Creek Wednesday. He named his chum salmon according to their characters — one was shy, therefore the girl, and another was a vigorous swimmer, so he was dubbed with the boy name.

“Most years I just go without my class,” Danial said.

In years past he helped second-grade students with their salmon releases.

Danial and his classmates went to plant trees on the bank of Clear Creek while another group from their class peered through microscopes at a nearby wooden picnic table.

“People that fish really know these bugs because they use them as bait,” explained Debbie Thomas while the students examined a couple of stonefly bugs she had scooped up with a net in the riffles of Clear Creek earlier that day.

Stoneflies are great fish food. They live in the water for a few years then crawl out and turn into winged insects, said Thomas, Kitsap Public Utilities District’s education manager.

“A lot of the stuff they’re asking the kids I take for granted because I learned it when I was a kid,” said parent chaperone Lynette Whitney of East Bremerton.

But Whitney too learned something new — that because stoneflies need a lot of oxygen to survive, their presence is evidence of a healthy stream.

“This part of Clear Creek is pretty healthy, which is amazing because it is so close to the highway but it’s got this great tree buffer,” Thomas said.

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