By Richard Brocksmith, Executive Director, Skagit Watershed Council, for the 2018 Skagit River Salmon Festival Program
Thank you for joining us again this year at the Skagit River Salmon Festival to have some fun and learn how to ensure the preservation of the Skagit River and its salmon resources. We won’t achieve this goal without your help!
There are as many reasons to preserve this amazing area as there are perspectives heard in the watershed. That’s because we each have a different history and context for living, working, and playing here that has shaped our sense of this place and our community.
For instance, family and tradition are words one hears often when talking with local, native American tribal members about the importance of this place. Marilyn Scott, Vice Tribal Chair for the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, says “It’s just so special when you hear some of the stories that are passed down from generation to generation. You can bring your family out to a creek and go fishing and have that experience that is shared as part of your story.” To not have access to those resources could be devastating to a family’s quality of life and relationship to the land.
Another important part of our community is the agriculture sector, with the early pioneers settling here five generations ago. Mike Youngquist is a perfect example with his great grandfather homesteading 40 acres in 1886 just west of Mount Vernon. He believes the area is extremely unique in that it nurtures deep roots, cooperation, and optimism in the community that provides the ability for farmers to handle the struggles that inevitably pop up. And the place’s natural beauty and productivity are integrally tied to the Skagit River. “It’s the lifeblood of this valley,” he said.
As much as anything, the Skagit Valley is also defined by forests and forestry, with most of the upper watershed covered in trees. Mark Hitchcock, a local, lifelong forester, grew up and spent his career in the deep woods of Washington. He sees the Skagit as “special because of the juxtaposition of all of its natural resources from forest to saltwater and the islands,” including “the interface with our use of the land.” He says he “loves seeing the swans and the snow geese” in the fields and it “makes me realize that we [humans] are still part of the natural environment and we do live in a very glorious place.”
Saul Weisberg, Executive Director of the North Cascades Institute, has been bringing youth and adults in the community together to share experiences in the Skagit since 1986. “We may not always be in agreement, but we share experiences because we live here together, and that is really powerful,” he says. One gets the sense from Saul that our different experiences are like the thousands of headwater streams of the Skagit, all flowing down in a lifelong journey to join together to form our creeks and then finally the mighty Skagit itself. And that this epic, life-giving, metaphoric waterbody both supports our community, and depends on our community, for our common good.
So, what do these folks all have in common? They’ve each expressed in their own way that to preserve what we love about the Skagit River we sometimes have to challenge ourselves and the perspectives we find ourselves in to come together as a community and work together. Scott Schuyler, the Natural Resources Policy Representative of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe says “We have so many resources in this valley, but if we are not working together – the agricultural, the tribal, and citizens in general – we are going to all be impacted” by their loss. Similarly, Mike Youngquist, the farmer, says “If we’re harming the salmon, that’s one issue – we can’t do that… We all have to work together to make it work.”
Please join them, join us, and challenge yourselves to see other’s perspectives as we work together to preserve the Skagit River and its communities.