A government shutdown hasn’t stopped hundreds of people from witnessing annual salmon spawning at Taylor Creek this week.
On Wednesday, several crowds of people hiked around Rainbow Trail to see the natural occurrence, though gates to the Taylor Creek Visitor Center remained closed.
Families lined their cars off Highway 89 and walked in. For some visitors, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“It was magical,” San Pedro resident Claudia Kreis said. “Where else would you see salmon so close and in the numbers you see them in?”
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Kokanee salmon swim up Taylor Creek each year to deposit eggs in the clean, oxygen-rich environment. It is in that cold water and gravel streambed where the eggs incubate for about 100 days before hatching between January and March, according to the U.S. Forest Service. To celebrate the event, an annual Fall Fish Festival is held so visitors can learn about the natural phenomenon from Forest Service biologists, but a recent lapse in federal funding caused this year’s Fish Festival to be cancelled after nearly all of the 150 people who work for the U.S Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit were furloughed.
Salida residents Philip and Debbie Waddle were lucky enough to watch the spawning up close earlier this week from the underground Stream Profile Chamber, they said.
But on Wednesday, when the federal facility remained closed, they were on their own.
“It’s disappointing that you don’t have someone out here that can explain (the spawning process) in detail,” Debbie Waddle said, as she stood near Taylor Creek on Wednesday to observe the fish.
Just a few feet from where Debbie Waddle was standing, the salmon swam in pairs: one male to every female. Most of the females were building nests, or redds, as the males waited for the eggs.
After a nest is built, a Kokanee can lay anywhere from 200 to 1,800 eggs, according to the Forest Service. The male fertilizes the eggs, and then both male and female die after spawning.
Only about three out of 1,000 eggs will survive to spawn. But when they do, they hatch and flow into Lake Tahoe in spring, the Forest Service states. And the scent of Taylor Creek stays with them.
The salmon that hatch from this year’s spawning will eventually return, and repeat the process as adults, according to the Forest Service.
Glenn and Terry Rogers, a Michigan couple visiting Tahoe this week, said they’d never seen anything like it, as human-made dams tend to interrupt the natural process.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Terry Rogers said.