Congratulations to everyone behind the 2010 Issaquah Salmon Days Festival. The hardworking folks at the festivals office are at it year round, and for a small team of paid staff, aided by a large and willing team of volunteers, they put together a product that is becoming renown across the state and winning awards across the country.
The festival is a great representation of Issaquah’s connection to its ancient roots – to the creeks, lakes, trees and hills, and the animals and plants that inhabit them, that defined this neck of the woods long before European settlers laid eyes on the place.
But as it touches the past so too does the Issaquah Salmon Festival have its vision firmly trained on the future.
All around the world, there are cities like Issaquah (though the more parochial of its residents would disagree!).
My home town is one of those places – I have written of it here before. A small fishing town on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia, Eden’s history is one built on land-based whaling. In the 1800s, hard men of another era would row out from Davidson’s whaling station at Saltwater Creek, chase down and hand spear whales before dragging their carcasses back to shore for butchering.
By the early 1900s whaling had faded out and for the next century the town was sustained almost wholly by various forms of fishing, and logging. Like the whales before them, unsustainable fishing had placed a strain on the resource, and a once wealthy fleet had been reduced to disgruntled old-timers bickering for scraps.
When I was working at the paper there in the early 2000s, the fish stocks were dwindling, the abalone were thin on the ground, and the chip mill, which sold low quality wood pulp to Japan, where they make paper and sell it back to Australia, was facing growing pressure from forestry groups and the general public.
So the town is, yet again, at an economic crossroads.
The one resource they have managed to protect, largely, during these swings in industry, has been the pristine waters of Twofold Bay, and the wilderness of the state parks that surround it. Now the people of Eden are realizing that rather than just being a beautiful backdrop to their blue-collar town, the area’s ecology can actually be the bedrock of its economy. A few years ago they built a marine discovery center where before stood a fish processing plant, with plans to expand it into a tertiary resource facility for marine biology courses and sustainable aquaculture projects. By the month, more kayak and hiking and scuba tour companies are taking root. The mussel companies have teamed up under the umbrella of “Eden Seafood” to market the product in Sydney and Melbourne. Where before the big dollars were in whale harvesting, now they are in whale watching, a booming tourism industry that brings thousands of visitors to the town for three or four months of the year.
For many of these initiatives, the blueprint was Cannery Row in California, a former fishing town (and Steinbeck muse), turned holiday destination for beachcombers and foodies.
So too was Issaquah born from primary industry, and the created proximity to transportation modes that have since been surpassed. All around the Puget Sound area there are small cities with a similar past, like Woodinville, Bothell and Kenmore, which in 2010 are making efforts to define themselves as either bedroom communities, or high-tech breeding grounds, or living museums.
In recent years Bothell has been very successful in attracting bio-tech companies to the city, and a few months ago the city signed a deal with the pub and hotel chain McMenamins to restore a historic Bothell school building, part of their extensive downtown revitalization effort. Other cities are doing what they can to replace the turn-of-the-century mills and ports on Lake Washington and the Sammamish River with high-tech industries, to attract tourists and shoppers to their historic downtown areas, and extract regular returns from working farms, wineries and rural areas.
The key to all these efforts is sustainability – industries that are built from, but do not diminish, the natural and historic resources of the area.
Issaquah is right there. The fact that the Issaquah Alps and the Mountains to Sound Greenway corridor along I-90 is stunningly beautiful is not a new idea. But recent years have seen city staff and businesses coming to grips with how connected our economic futures are to these mountains, rivers, trails and tracks.
World-leading companies in the region are using this wild and wonderful backyard as a hiring incentive for highly sought after professionals. Earlier this year a group of fishing, biking and adventure businesses teamed up for the first ever “Issaquah Outdoors” month, to bring visitors to the city for its natural amenities. One purpose of the city’s newly created mountain bike taskforce is to explore how to market the city as a mountain biking destination throughout the region and beyond.
And all the while, the Salmon Days Festivals brings in tens of thousands of people each year to marvel at the wonders of an intriguing dance of nature, and spend money in our local stores.
Which is why it is hard to fathom the thinking behind any argument that money spent on ecological restoration and protection goes to the animals but not the people.
And though I disagree with them, I can accept that some people deny the inherent moral responsibility of mankind to take care of the planet that sustains him (and her).
But for cities like Issaquah, in 2010, trees and clean streams and open space and native plant species and all the rest of that tree-hugging nonsense are bankable financial investments in the ongoing commercial viability of the city.