Illabot Creek Restoration Project

By Julia Luna, Communications Specialist

The group standing in one of the newly engineered channels

Three channels, three choices.
On a warm sunny day in Skagit County last week, a guided tour of the Illabot Creek restoration site allowed visitors to walk in the middle of three newly engineered channels that in the near future would be full of water. Standing in the middle of a dry streambed in early fall brought a fresh perspective to salmon habitat restoration, knowing that in just a few months that dusty, rocky place will be a home for fish to grow. These channels offer the stream a choice: when winter rains cause the creek to swell, the river won’t be restricted to just one path forward. Innovative engineering using large pieces of wood debris to create habitat and protect the structures and channels (instead of concrete or boulder armoring of the channels) emphasizes a natural approach to restoration and affords the river flexibility as it changes through time.

Years in the making
Many members of the Skagit community met with people from other parts of Puget Sound to celebrate the occasion with a ribbon cutting. The ceremony itself was filled with smiles and handshakes. From tribal leaders, to landowners, to our own Executive Director, everyone was excited to see a major salmon recovery project ready to start producing salmon.

Executive Director, Sheida Sahandy is all smiles as she cuts her portion of the ribbon

The completion of the Illabot Creek restoration project was years in the making. There’s a saying that can be heard at these ribbon cutting ceremonies that those involved “go gray” with the project. The same is true for this one, which started in the early 2000s and ended this summer. Much like watching a child walk across the stage at graduation, there is a sense of pride and attachment that comes with seeing a project of this scope come to fruition. And those involved should be proud — Illabot Creek, a very productive tributary of the Skagit River, spans just over 14 beautiful river miles. This project reconnects the creek to its historic channels, ensuring that salmon will return to spawn and grow for years to come.

This project comes at a critical moment for all of us in the Puget Sound recovery community. After the world watched Talequah (J35), a member of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, grieve her newborn calf for 17 agonizing days this past July, we all needed a dose of hope. The Illabot Creek project provides important habitat for Chinook salmon to spawn and grow before making their long journey to Puget Sound, where they provide much-needed food for the orcas and serve many other ecosystem and economic needs as well.

Landowner, Pauline Ryan (seated), receives recognition.

PSAR dollars at work
The Illabot Creek Restoration was made possible in large part by Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) funds. Since PSAR projects go through a thorough vetting process at the local level, communities get the chance to buy-in to the potential benefits. The legislature provides the funding for PSAR we depend on and we look to communities and local landowners to lend their time and talent to projects like these. Special thanks to the landowners involved in this project and to Pauline Ryan and her family, for allowing this restoration to happen on the land that they have owned for generations.

Many hands make light work
The proverb, “many hands make light work” rings true in two ways for this restoration project. The first is that this project wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of landowners, local communities, local governments, and federal entities. When diverse backgrounds come together, real progress can be made toward salmon recovery. This restoration project provided jobs for Washington engineers and construction workers and allowed for meaningful partnerships to form. It also protects the transportation infrastructure that is critically important to the local community. The second is that water flows to Puget Sound from many different rivers — for example, the fish that grow in Illabot Creek in Skagit County and swim while the water flows all the way to the Sound. Not one river restoration by itself can recover Puget Sound. But projects and rivers like this across the state can help make that dream a reality.

Learn more
For more information on PSAR, you can visit our website.