One of the most fascinating sights to observe in this world is the natural progression of life and how various species navigate it. At Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls, visitors have the unique opportunity for an up-close viewi of Chinook salmon as they make their migration to spawn at the park’s upper falls where they were released as fingerlings three years prior.
Located on the lower Deschutes River, the 15-acre Brewery Park has been privately owned by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation (OTF) since plans for the park were announced in the winter of 1962. However, well before the park was even a thought in anyone’s mind, the idea to bring a salmon run on the Deschutes River to the height of the lower falls began in the late 1890s.
The salmon run implementation was born from the fact that near the turn of the century, native salmon runs in the Puget Sound were diminishing. In 1897, the state legislature and the fish commissioner were dedicated to increasing the economy and knew that fish ladders and hatcheries could help make that a reality. In an article from the Morning Olympian in January of 1897, a senate bill reported that Senator Thomas Miller of Thurston County (who later became a mayor of Tumwater for a term) instructed the fish commissioner to “construct fishways in streams where natural barriers prevented the ascent of salmon.” Later newspaper articles in the area reported that the estimated cost of the construction of the proposed fish ladders, built using the latest and best plans, was $500. The lower section of that fish ladder system, which is still in use today, was built in 1898.
Fast forward to the 1950s when juvenile salmon from the Green River hatchery were introduced into the Deschutes River. At this time, concrete fish ladders were constructed to assist the returning adults as they navigate the lower, middle and upper falls on their return trip. This program continues to successfully improve the Chinook salmon numbers and in turn provides food for the dwindling southern resident killer whale (orca) population, as well as salmon for recreational, commercial and treaty fishing in the area.
Within the park, the OTF has provided the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife a generous easement to operate a facility, which was recently used to complete $9 million worth of extensive renovations on the property. Along with assistance from the City of Tumwater and Native American tribes, the salmon facility at the upper falls at was recently upgraded leading to the replacement of the over 50-year-old structure that proved to be far out-of-date date for modern fisheries operation. Additionally, the upgrades now feature brand new glass walls for prime salmon viewing, an upgraded egg-taking facility, a new mechanical building, interpretive signage, and landscaping that enhances the overall experience for the public.
With Brewery Park fully re-opened, the best times to view the salmon runs that have been expanded to more than 3.8 million annually, are generally from mid-September to mid-October. “This experience is exceptionally interesting as it’s very unique to come across a river in the middle of a metropolitan area with a salmon run,” explains John Freedman, executive director of the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. “The park is in the shadow of the state capitol and creates a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Viewing the Chinook salmon run is a great way to see the lifecycle of a species and learn about the environment up close and personal as well as learn the benefits of keeping our waters clean and cool.”
Visits to Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls are always free. With the changing of the fall foliage, waterfall viewing areas, new paved bike and walking trails, and further repairs and clean up, the park is a fantastic place to spend a day out in nature. “We encourage the community to come enjoy the park and all of the new features.” Says John. “Be sure to hurry to make it in time to see the spectacular salmon!”
Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls is located at 110 Deschutes Way SW in Tumwater. Opening times vary per season, so be sure to check the Olympia Tumwater Foundation website or Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls Facebook for up to date information.