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In Search of the Endangered Coho Salmon

Looking in Lagunitas Creek for this winter's salmon run. Dogs best left home.

Lagunitas Creek and San Geronimo Creek have historically been winter homes to spawning salmon that make their way up from the ocean to breed and then die. Years ago, thousands of Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout came to these waters to spawn and the fry grew and then migrated out to the ocean.

Now, the annual count of returning fish is in the hundreds, if not less. The Coho Salmon are on the brink of extinction and their presence in Lagunitas and San Geronimo Creeks is cherished by locals and the world at large. Much excitement accompanies sightings of these important fish. The local advocacy group SPAWN is managing a strong movement to protect these fish, and their naturalists lead hikes all winter to spot the spawning salmon.

We went walking from Shafter Bridge's Leo Cronin Fish Viewing Area to search for the elusive salmon and to explore the creeks. Along the west side of Lagunitas Creek the rippling water is easily visible in the canyon, but, although the fish are large, they are also few in number and they blend in with their surroundings. We didn't catch sight of any, but the peaceful tranquility of the setting, with its waterfalls and forest greens, did not disappoint. 

It is a short 20 minute walk to traverse along the western bank of the creek to where it ends near the Kent Lake Dam. We peered into the water at every opportunity to no avail. So, after coming back to the parking area, we crossed Shafter Bridge and went along the east side of the creek to stretch out our walking legs and visit Kent Lake Dam. 

Kent Lake has a ginormous earthen dam that was constructed in 1954 and raised in 1981. The water behind the dam forms a forested, achingly beautiful lake. This reservoir, while needed for Marin's drinking water supply, is also partly to blame for the demise of the salmon population. The dam cuts off a major habitat area for the spawning salmon and for steelhead trout. In addition, it restricts gravel movement downstream into the creek that is needed by the fish to form "redds," nests in the water for their eggs. 

The forest is loaded with second growth firs and redwoods, and is majestic in its beauty. The low winter sun penetrates deeply under the canopy and the trees are alive with birdlife. We saw and heard a couple of Northern Flickers, with their characteristic swooping flight and "wick-up" call, diving into the cover of the woods.

Another delightful spot at Shafter Bridge lies just north of the bridge. The San Geronimo Creek charmingly pools and falls through a series of rocks called The Inkwells. In the summer, the pools are informal swimming holes for local residents. The Inkwell bridge crosses over the pools and forms the start of the Cross Marin Trail, an old railroad right of way (described earlier in the hike titled ." This year there are reports that salmon have been seen leaping the falls into the Inkwell Pools. Happy Hunting!

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