Septober in Cascade Locks

No, that title is not a misprint. The mild September weather here in the Pacific Northwest is transitioning rapidly to more October like conditions- hence Septober. Light drizzle for hours on end, an occasional break with decent weather then clouding up resulting in the occasional downpour, after downpour, after downpour. September usually brings around 2.5″ of rain but this month we’ve received 4. 25″- and the month’s not over yet folks.

Osprey and Vulture on the prowl

The average annual rainfall here in Cascade Locks is 78 inches so some rain is expected- but not this much this early in the fall season. In contrast Portland, 40 miles to the west receives 43 inches a year and Hood River, 20 miles to the east receives 30 inches a year. A little more than a week ago a tornado was spotted not far from downtown Portland and another weather cell drew major concern prompting a tornado warning north and east of Vancouver, WA.

Egg Incubation Building

The grounds are large so we have a Toro Workman to get around in. It has a water tank and pump on board so that we can water the many flower pots strategically placed around the hatchery. It also helps us transport trash, tools and whatever else is required to fulfill our duties.

Our normal volunteer job entails greeting and answering questions from our visitors, policing the visitors center, grounds and restrooms for wayward trash, disposing of fallen tree limbs, emptying trash cans, maintaining Herman the Sturgeon’s house, keeping the trout ponds free of debris (and dead trout, a.k.a. Morts). We also feed Herman, the larger rainbow trout in his pond and the small sturgeon (4 footers) salmon jacks- yearlings that have returned to the hatchery but are too young to spawn. The ladies return phone inquiries and keep the large assortment of brochures and leaflets stocked in the visitors center. Our boss Hugh makes a list of “extra” projects that need to be addressed. When we get a chance we try to check off an item on that “to do” list.

Mike feeding Herman and Friends

Us volunteers took advantage of the few rainless periods we’ve experienced the last couple of weeks to shorten the to do list. Ivy was trimmed where it had overgrown and flowed past curbing, in all 600 feet worth. Two decorative fountain pools with were drained, cleaned and refilled with fresh water.

Our cohort volunteers Jim and Connie have been suctioning coins and debris from the bottoms of the upper trout pond and the small sturgeon pond (the sturgeon are small, the pond is not) with the lower trout pond left to complete. The coins taken from the bottom of the fish ponds have to be cleaned before the bank will accept them so Jim and Connie have assumed that duty. Jim has also used his talent to repair hatchery equipment.

Jumping Fish Water Fountain

The very popular jumping salmon water fountain sprung a leak causing a soggy mess so the brass salmon sculpture was removed, the leaking pipes repaired and the sculpture replaced. Doesn’t sound like a big job but it is. The salmon sculpture is fairly heavy. It is also top-heavy making it a bit unwieldy. I have to believe it was quite a site watching three men muscle the sculpture back on to its perch while Connie was standing, teetering on the edge of the fountain trying her darnedest not to step on the wet, sticky waterproofing gunk and not getting pushed off of the edge all the while trying to keep the sculpture more or less vertical. It’s a fragile work of art and must be handled with care and that’s what happened- and no one got hurt……..

“Fish Guy” housing on premises- walk to work!

Rain means more work for us. Leaves from the many deciduous trees and needles from conifers tend to slough off. Over a short period of time they create quite a mess on the lawns and paved areas of the hatchery. The solution is to mow the lawns which does double duty in picking leaf and pine needle debris.

Volunteer Ladies walking over Mitchell Creek Bridge

If the lawns are too wet to mow those leaves and pine needles are blown off of the lawns on to pavement then vacuumed up with a trailer mounted vacuum. Since the vacuum can’t get close enough to curbing, the curbs are cleared using back pack gas powered blowers. Paved walks also need to be cleared of organic debris. It’s a half day process for two people blowing and one driving the trailered vacuum to clean up all of the leaf litter. Blowing and vacuuming is done as needed- sometimes a few times a week.

In the meantime the “fish guys” have started working the salmon. The buyers truck has been here five times to haul salmon to market. Salmon have also been spawned several times in the last couple of weeks, the eggs collected, fertilized and taken from the spawning room to the egg incubation building to begin the process of hatching and growing into fry.

Jil in foreground and Anne in background ready to receive eggs
Jil holding frozen salmon in the Freezer Room

Us volunteers sometimes get involved in the spawning process, filling in where necessary. The ladies usually assist hatchery employee Anne. She takes the freshly harvested salmon eggs and combines them with those of six other females’ eggs and fertilizes them with milt from more than one male salmon. Those eggs are placed in a 5 gallon bucket, then transported to the egg incubation room by electric cart where they are placed in trays washed constantly with fresh water. The chauffeurs can be hatchery “fish guys” but many times are volunteers.

Our stay at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery is not all work and no play. More on that next time.

Twilight falls on the railroad aqueduct

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