Community Education Environment

Chum Fest brings lots of families (but no salmon) to Donkey Creek

Posted on November 20th, 2023 By:

The salmon didn’t show up, but hundreds of festival goers did.

The 2023 Chum Festival, hosted by Harbor WildWatch, was a family-friendly walk this year, with hands-on learning activities along txʷaalqəł Estuary from Austin Park, behind Harbor History Museum, and to Donkey Creek Park.

To keep it fun, participants received a small passport book to present at each tent and activity station along the pathway wrapping around the shoreside trail. With each task completed, the passport was stamped. One lucky completed passport holder earned a salmon-themed prize.

Young artists paint a salmon during the 2023 Chum Festival. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Fun activities

Science and art converged at the Chum Fest to educate and enlighten walkers about salmon habitat, environmental stewardship and sustainability. By day’s end, a giant paper salmon dripped of Crayola-colored paints bedazzled by artists young and old.

How big is a salmon egg anyway? Each tent offered children hands-on activities with tiny rocks, dry beans, and sticks to hold and examine, all to better illustrate the salmon’s story and its magnificent life cycle and spawning journey. (Answer: a salmon egg is about the size of a pencil eraser.)

Under the Harborview Drive bridge there were no trolls, just young scientists in the making.

Over at the Gig Harbor Land Conservation Fund tent in Donkey Creek Park, little hands painted up a large canvas with trees, seals, whales, fish, and all of the living things that they could think of that would make a watershed healthy.

Robyn Denson discusses the Gig Harbor Land Conservation Trust during the 2023 Chum Festival. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Habitat preservation

The fund’s chair, Pierce County Councilmember Robyn Denson, fielded questions about properties the organization has acquired so far, and the 11.5 acres in need of funding.

According to Denson, the city of Gig Harbor will soon have “50 acres of beautiful streamside habitat along North Creek.” She believes it will provide “a wonderful place for wildlife to live and eventually (become) a gorgeous place for residents and visitors to hike around.”

To learn more about protecting and restoring shorelines, the organization hosted a Green Drinks event following the walk, featuring the Pierce Conservation District’s shorelines program manager.

Across the park over at the Pierce Conservation District tent, participants filled out a Salmon Steward Pledge. Steward suggestions included carpooling, taking public transit, picking up dog poop, volunteering at a habitat restoration event, and removing invasive plants in your yard.

Salmon art

Inspired by the shimmering iridescent scales of the Pacific Northwest icon, children patiently sat still as salmon-inspired art was delicately painted and glued across their tiny faces and arms.

“They love coming,” said Cindy Warter as she watched her daughter Emeryn be adorned with an Orca on one cheek.

Emeryn Warter gets her face painted at the 2023 Chum Festival. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Pacific Northwest Indigenous peoples defined themselves as Salmon People. In Gig Harbor, the salmon spawned where Donkey Creek empties into the harbor. This was the main Twa-wal-kut village, part of the Puyallup Tribe. Tribal members would return to Gig Harbor during the year for salmon fishing, hunting, and gathering.

One salmon at a time

While the salmon shied away from the weekend’s celebration, biology will bring the Pacific Northwest icon to Donkey Creek soon enough. It’s mostly chum salmon at Donkey Creek, and Chinook and Coho at Crescent Creek.

Bringing people together was the goal of the Chum Festival Walk, according to the event host, Harbor Wild Watch, along with promoting, “sustainability, sound environmental stewardship, preservation of our maritime history and culture, responsible recreation, habitat preservation, and shoreline restoration — one salmon at a time.”

Click on any photo below to see a gallery of images from the festival.