Issaquah’s homegrown festival, Salmon Days, celebrates its 50th year this fall. Presented by the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce, the annual community festival welcomes the return of the salmon.
“We’re celebrating Issaquah and salmon history,” said Brenda Devore, Issaquah Chamber of Commerce’s community engagement and events manager. “We’re excited to continue to showcase the best of Issaquah.”
It all began in 1970.
Chamber and Kiwanis members created the event to replace an aging Labor Day festival. They planned for the celebration to happen when people were already flooding into town. They came to witness the salmon make their annual return, battling upstream to spawn. They dedicated the October event to the fish.
In the first few years of the festival, attractions included the Kiwanis Salmon BBQ, salmon hatchery displays, an art show, children’s parade led by J.P. Patches, little league football games at Veterans Memorial Field and fire crew competitions.
In 1980, the Salmon Days festival and Grande Parade underwent two major changes that have been credited with altering the course of the festival: Salmon Days became a Seafair-sanctioned event and a festival float was created again. Merchandise was introduced to aid the growth of the festival as well.
In 1990, the festival introduced the Salmon Days Limited Print, a signed and numbered run of 450 prints featuring original artwork. The festival retired the collection at the end of 2003 and the majority of the past prints have sold out.
Now, Salmon Days has become one of the best known festivals in the country and was listed in the Travel Channel’s “50 States of Fun Festivals.” It attracts about 150,000 people to the two-day festival each year
For years, salmon population has been on the decline. As salmon numbers continue to deplete, Salmon Days has become a means to raise awareness of the scarcity of the fish and the environments they impact.
When the event first began, salmon population wasn’t a concern. However, as time went on and salmon population became a problem, the Issaquah Hatchery created more messaging on the fishs’ important role in the ecosystem.
The Issaquah hatchery was built in 1936. At the time, salmon was eliminated by the effects of mining and logging. The hatchery’s mission was to replace the lost salmon runs.
Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery (FISH) was founded in the 1990s. An Issaquah Press reporter discovered the state was considering closing many state hatcheries, including the facility in Issaquah. The community created petitions to show the importance of the hatchery and a large group formed. FISH, a nonprofit that leads hatchery tours and promotes watershed stewardship, was formed. Because of FISH, the hatchery remains open, working to prevent the complete devastation of remaining salmon.
Salmon Days is always held the first weekend of October, per the predicted return of the salmon. The festival features more than a dozen beer and wine vendors, lawn games, petting zoos, obstacle courses, a marketplace of more than 250 artists, Foods of the World, the Field of Fun and three stages of live entertainment. Of course, there is the grand parade.
This year’s grand marshal is Olympic gold medalist, Bryan Clay. Clay is the Olympic Decathlon Champion from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Clay moved with his family to Issaquah about a year ago. He said his family settled in Issaquah because of the community. When he was asked by the Chamber of Commerce to be this year’s Salmon Days grand marshal, he said he was surprised.
“I was definitely surprised they asked me because I just moved here, but it’s such a huge honor,” he said.
As grand marshal, he said he looks forward to taking the responsibility of being an ambassador for the community.
“We believe Issaquah has a lot to offer and we would love to be a part of it,” he said.
This year’s Salmon Days will be 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Oct. 5-6. Admission is free.
The Grande Parade is 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5.
To learn more about Salmon Days, go online to salmondays.org.