The Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail offers an up-close look at thousands of chum salmon splashing around in an end-of-life mating display, scratching beds in the stream gravel to deposit their eggs, then succumbing to become a source of food for 137 species of fish and wildlife.
The half-mile trail in western Washington state meanders through five acres of stately second-growth Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees, maple trees still partly cloaked in golden leaves, and an understory of ferns, vine maple and snowberry bushes.
But it is the chum salmon, which spawn in masses in the lower reaches of the stream, that are the main attraction.
Last week, the fish were just starting to trickle back to the spawning grounds, still waiting for some fall rain storms to elevate flows in the stream. By mid-November, the spawning grounds should be full of an equal amount of live and dead fish, which marks the peak of a spawning season that tails off by mid-December.
The chum fry, or small fish, will emerge from the gravel in March and April, feed and provide food for other fish and birds in the creek estuary in the spring. Then the survivors head to sea. After three years at sea, about 40,000 adults will return to spawn, although the number varies depending on stream and ocean conditions.
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