Chum salmon are spawning in the lower Columbia River right now, and a local conservation land trust has the perfect spot to watch them in action.
The Columbia Land Trust invited the public to sip hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows on Friday while watching chum salmon spawn on a rare patch of gravel along the Vancouver riverfront.
Tanya Mikkelson organized the event for the land trust on a piece of property the group manages for conservation. She said three tours on Friday weren’t enough for everyone who wanted to attend.
“We ended up adding another time slot this afternoon because the wait list was so long,” she said.
"So, it seems like folks are really into the opportunity."
Jen Zarnoch, who manages the property for the land trust, said it was important for the group to protect this residential area from further development. The land trusts owns some of the property in the area and manages conservation easements on adjacent tracts.
“This is one of three chum spawning locations that are left in the Columbia River for this federally threatened species,” she said. "This is a species that used to number around 450,000 salmon and now we have less than 1% of those remaining."
Zarnoch said chum also spawn near the Grays River and near Pierce and Hamilton islands around Beacon Rock.
Chum salmon aren’t considered as tasty as the chinook and coho that swim up the Columbia. They spawn closer to the mouth of the river, rather than higher up in the tributaries.
Jane Van Dyke, who lives in the area and attended the event on Friday, marveled that the spawning grounds are just upstream from the 205 bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver.
“We have wild fish that are starting and completing their life cycle right here in the urban area," she said. "It’s just such a great thing.”