It was Love at First Sight
Anne Schwartz’ Story about seeking a lifestyle connected to the land
Seeking a lifestyle that was more connected with the land, natural resources, and seasons, Anne Schwartz headed west in 1975. Initially destined for California, Anne stopped in Sedro-Woolley, WA to visit friends from Rutgers who found work in the timber industry after Forestry School. “It was love at first sight,” she describes her immediate connection to Skagit Valley. Anne and her husband, Mike Brondi, both had grown up in New Jersey. Most of their family and classmates were destined for jobs where you do the same thing day in and day out for 50 weeks out of the year and then you have your two weeks of vacation. They knew that lifestyle was not for them. “Coming to the Skagit Valley from New Jersey was literally like falling into paradise in 1975. It was really easy to find work, the people were so welcoming and friendly; people were really nice to each other.” Anne worked seasonal jobs off and on in the Skagit Valley while also studying Animal Science at Washington State University. She worked sorting potatoes, in the bulb fields for Lafeber Farms, and at a veterinarian clinic in Mount Vernon under Dr. Ray Bradberry. Continue reading
Anita Luvera Mayer, the daughter of Italian and Croatian immigrants, has spent most of her life in Anacortes. Her mother’s family came from Splitska on the island of Brač and her father from Reggio, Italy when he was just 12 by way of Alberta, Canada. Her father, Paul Luvera, owned a grocery store in Anacortes from 1922 until 1957 which also served the fishing industry during each summer. Continue reading
Saul Weisberg remembers when it hit him. In the early 1980s, he and two friends were on a climbing trip in the Pickets, a notoriously hard-to-reach chain of icy peaks high in the North Cascades. After 10 days of sipping snow melt in the high country, he recalls coming down and drinking deeply from mountain streams that eventually flowed into Big Beaver Creek. They crossed over the creek on giant cedar logs, or waded along the edges as they followed it down through lush forest to arrive at Ross Lake and finally, the Skagit River. On the drive home, they pulled over and sat on the river bank. That’s when he knew.
“I had this sense that this place was all connected,” Weisberg recalls. “And I was a part of it. I didn’t really know what that meant, but it felt like, ‘This is home. This is a good place to call home.’” Continue reading
Wow, the Skagit River’s natural salmon and trout resources are one of a kind! This wild place produces a huge part of all of Puget Sound’s native fish, including 60% of it’s wild Chinook Salmon. It’s the only river in Puget Sound that produces substantial runs of all of our native salmon and trout species, and it’s one of the main bull trout strongholds in the entire United States!
Many folks know that it is world famous for steelhead fishing, but not many know that hundreds of thousands of pounds of steelhead were harvested every year back in the early 1900’s. That’s huge, almost hard to imagine what that was like!
While we don’t have great historical records, we do know a lot more these days. For the last 40 years, state and tribal governments have done a good job counting fish on their spawning grounds, and that “escapement” estimate tracks the health of the population. We also have a good idea of where fish spawn and where their young rear or grow, which helps us create maps of their distribution.
Future features here will explore why we see fish populations fluctuating up and down. Tell us what you would like to know about Skagit’s native fish!
Click the fish and explore each species’ health and location in more detail!
Mark Hitchcock’s life in the woods
When Mark Hitchcock reflects on Skagit Valley’s unique character, one particular memory comes to mind. He was serving his first term on the board of the Skagit Conservation District when baseball season came around. He and his wife Alison joined a team of folks from the District, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Farm Service Agency. Fittingly, their uniforms bore the white and black pattern of a Holstein cow. They named themselves “the Lagoons,” in an effort to draw attention to an important issue at the time: managing dairy waste in manure lagoons. Unfortunately, this resulted in an unexpected nickname from opposing teams: the L.A. Goons.
Despite their winning outfits, the Lagoons managed to lose every single game that season. “In the final game, we played the only other team that had not won a game yet,” Hitchcock recalls with a laugh. “They did manage to beat us.” Even though they had a rough season, Hitchcock remembers it fondly. Reclined in a rocking chair in his home on Samish Island, Hitchcock wears an air of affability with a glint of humor in his eyes above a red beard. “We had a lot of fun playing baseball and staying tight to the work.” Continue reading
Mike Youngquist’s agricultural roots in Skagit Valley run about as deep as they get. In 1880, his great-grandfather John Jungquist immigrated from Sweden and homesteaded in 1886 a 40-acre parcel on what would become Jungquist Road. Mike was born in 1943 and raised on that same land where his father (Don) and grandfather (Emil) ran a dairy farm. He worked on the farm through high school, studied agriculture in college, worked summers in the Skagit pea fields, and eventually returned to carry on the legacy of working the family land in 1970. Today, he lives in his grandfather’s house, no longer grows crops, but still packs and markets strawberries and raspberries with his wife (Jeanne) as Mike and Jean’s Berry Farm. Continue reading
The Skagit River Salmon Festival is a celebration of salmon as a magnificent, sustainable, natural resource right here in our backyard! The Skagit River is the stronghold for salmon and steelhead in Puget Sound, and honestly, our region’s best chance to save salmon from being diminished, and arguably our community at the same time.
Usually a short story like this would relay our Skagit salmon story, what they need to survive, how much of that was lost before we knew any better, and what one can do to help. And of course all of that information is available at the Festival each year or local websites.
But this article is about something else. It’s about us, Skagit’s communities, and what we want and need from the ever-changing world around us. It’s about nothing less than our very own prosperity and cultural legacy; and what our children and grandchildren will conclude about us in the future. Continue reading
The Upper Skagit Tribe’s vision of the valley spans many generations
When Scott Schuyler was a kid, he learned to love summers in the Skagit the hard way. Early on, he learned that to be successful at fishing you had to be committed, so on the night before opening day of every salmon fishing season, he would take his boat to the river to try to secure his place at the front of the line. The hope was to be the first boat down the river in the morning to get the first pick of the choicest fishing spots. As night fell, he would curl up in his boat with a tarp for a blanket and try in vain to get some sleep, his head full of visions of flashing silver in the green waters of the Skagit River.
“You would spend the night waiting in your cold boat trying to sleep, but you never slept,” recalls Schuyler, who is now a tribal elder. “It wasn’t so bad in the summer even though it was cold. But in the winter, it was miserable because it would usually rain.” He laughs. “So, I love fishing in the summer.” Continue reading
Did you hear the news? Skagit Land Trust is looking to acquire a property on Samish Island that would protect a mature second-growth forest, shoreline on Padilla Bay, and would be open to low impact public access. When I heard that the Land Trust was giving tours of this property, I had to check it out for myself. Continue reading
Featured in 2015 Skagit River Salmon Festival Program
The Skagit River is home to five species of salmon and three species of trout, and produces the largest amount of these fish of all of the rivers of Puget Sound. This is largely due to its size (third largest river on the West Coast), high quality headwater areas in the Cascade Mountains, and the high diversity of habitat that juvenile fish use for rearing in its middle and lower reaches.
The Skagit produces about 50% of all the Chinook salmon in Puget Sound each year. Unfortunately, this king of the salmon is greatly reduced from historical abundance. Scientists have strong evidence that spawning conditions are abundant and of high quality in rivers and streams of the upper watershed but that the habitat in the floodplains and estuary where they grow up (or rear) limits their survival. This makes common sense because if the baby fish don’t have places to hide, feed, and grow before being swept out to Skagit Bay at a small size they are much more likely to perish. Continue reading
You all know by now that the mighty Skagit River is the king of salmon in Puget Sound, with all species of native salmon and trout still producing a substantial resource for people to harvest and to sustain our natural environment.
Unlike many salmon runs in Puget Sound, the Skagit’s populations are hanging on, but their health is a mixed bag and there is cause for concern. First, the good news is that sockeye salmon runs into Baker Lake are increasing significantly, providing expanded fishing opportunities for fishermen and fisherwomen in Skagit County. Steelhead are on the rise again as well following a reduction in fishing for a few years and some reforms in hatchery practices that we all hope will lead to restored fishing opportunities in 2018 in the Upper Skagit River. Bull trout are stronger in the Skagit than anywhere else in the United States. And even Chinook salmon are holding steady here. Continue reading